BBC bird experts have tried to quench any symbolism by saying that white doves are the poorly camouflaged regular prey of city sparrowhawks. In Rome, they are the prey of audacious and predatory gulls who usually feed on sandwiches.
Jesus noted the harmlessness of domestic doves. Doves are like sheep among wolves - sparrowhawks being wolves in the world of birds. Doves belong to the pigeon family. This may be why Noah sent a white homing pigeon out from the Ark, to see if there was dry land, any hope. The dove returned bearing sprig of an olive tree in its mouth, which proved somewhere had not been flooded and that one fruitbearing tree still grew. The dove signified “hope” and “new life”. Jesus used animal images to say something about Christian vulnerability:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves” Matthew 10
Jesus pointed out how how naked and vulnerable are those who preach and share the Gospel in a world which rejects Him and the Gospel: sheep among wolves without defence. A wolf can outrun a sheep and cleverly works cooperatively, in hunting packs. There is only safety for a “stupid” sheep in the midst of a flock. Weaker outsiders are easy to separate and pick off. Jesus recommends how His "sheep" and "doves" should deal with the cunning, tribal cleverness and speed of His enemies. In this, he means:
- pursue innocence and purity - so that one gives no foothold to enemies eager to find a crack in the armour of the righteous.
- employ shrewdness, which is knowledge of the world, wisdom, realism.
- He spoke indirectly, using surprise
- He knew the Scriptures better than his opponents
- He turned their arguments against them
- He knew what was in their hearts and who to trust and who not to trust.
The fact is that the innocent dove is the main sacrificial victim in the Old Testament. It was the blood of the dove that justified the poor, sacrificed on the altar. Though Jesus talked about His Cross being “the sign of Jonah” (Jonah's name meaning “Dove”), the blood of the dove is no longer powerful or valid as before.
Only the blood of Christ covers the sin of the modern poor - who are us. If the Vatican is like Noah, using doves to proclaim “dry land” and “peace” and “hope” in the world, we are obliged to suggest that the real message of this event is actually:
- There is no “peace” or “dry land” or “hope” in this rebellious and evil world - save through the blood of Christ and through His Cross.