July 12, 2019
If I were to tell someone how much they mean to me, and I said to them, “You, my dear friend, are more important to me than sparrows.” I think this friend would be nonplussed. Probably offended. Deeply. So what’s going on with Jesus’ rhetorical question, “Are you not of more value than many sparrows…?”
It’s worth considering the value of a sparrow in Jesus’ day. In Jesus’ day, when making an offering at the Temple in Jerusalem, the poorest of the poor could not afford the offering of a lamb; they brought sparrows. Two sparrows were sold for one Roman penny. Two pennies made farthing. A farthing was 1/64 of a denarius. And a denarius was the average laborer’s wage for one day. So a common laborer’s daily wage would buy about 130 sparrows. It would have been one thing if Jesus had said, “you are of more value than gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” But no. He says, “You are of more value than sparrows.” Sparrows.
Hidden in this metaphor, comparing us with this most common, everyday bird, is a word of comfort. When you look at the media reports for today, the thousands and tens-of-thousands, and hundreds-of-thousands of people alive, today, who are living with real suffering and egregious injustice, when you see these multitudes of people pictured in the newspaper or online, people who are nameless to us – so many, and with such monochrome and appalling suffering – they may appear to us not unlike sparrows, one suffering face indistinguishable from the next. But they do have value, each one, individually, has value, and inestimable worth; they are known and loved eternally by God. Like sparrows to us, they may seem indistinguishable; to God they are loved and known by name. We should remember that love as we look upon the masses of suffering people – how we pray for them and act on their behalf, on behalf of at least some of them. God knows them and loves them each by name. Including us.
Some day you also may feel like one of those sparrows as you face your own suffering – suffering that is piercing, or suffering that is tedious. There may be for us all, sooner or later, a comforting reminder in this metaphor about the value even of a sparrow: that God knows and loves each us by name and sees in us something distinctive, precious, and of eternal value.
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