How many Sparrows have you seen recently? I was spellbound one afternoon in Whitby when there where clouds of small birds (some, but not all, sparrows) on a bush at the edge of a garden, (Thankfully a large bush, so I was able to watch the birds without having to avoid looking in the garden itself). I haven’t seen so many birds together for a long time. Sparrow numbers have declined alarmingly during my lifetime. Yet the Bible says that not one Sparrow is forgotten by God. Whether these Sparrows were the same as those found in the UK or, as one website suggested, it was actually a word meaning ‘small birds’, does not directly affect the aim of the passage. (Luke 12:4-7). Whatever they were, these birds were sold for a couple of coins. They were plentiful and very cheap. Yet not one sparrow is forgotten by God.
Which leads to two conclusions. If no Sparrow is forgotten by God, then God is aware of the decline in their numbers; God is aware each time a species becomes extinct; God is aware of the declining habitat of the polar bear; God is aware each time an animal is mistreated. Knowing this may affect our relationship with those we share our planet with. Then there are Jesus’ words: ‘fear not, you are worth more than many Sparrows’. Now, in these days of climate change and declining numbers and so on, this may seem more complicated than it has when Sparrows were plentiful. After all, it is us, worth more than many sparrows, who are responsible for the changing conditions which is leading so many other species to struggle. Yet I think we need to lay this aside for now; it is important, but it is not the point of the passage, and this point is a conclusion we all need to hear at heart.
YOU ARE WORTH MORE THAN MANY SPARROWS. Each of those Sparrows I saw in Whitby was known by God. So are you. Totally known by God, so that each hair of your head is numbered. (I’m just wondering if there is an angelic department somewhere dedicated to the numbering of the hairs of our head?? Oh dear, Sr Rachel’s just combed her hair, we’ll have to do a recount…). More seriously, think about how many hairs of your head fall out every day. Yet God knows you so intimately that every hair on your head is numbered! Although that may not be a comforting thought, depending on your image of God. There are many negative images around, and it may well be that the picture of God knowing you so intimately that every hair of your head is numbered could be quite threatening. One might well want to hide things from the ‘hell-fire and damnation’ type of god.
But that is not a true picture. Jesus says that every hair of our head is numbered not to fill us with fear of an angry God who longs to condemn us, but to tell us not to fear. Don’t fear, for you are worth more than many Sparrows. Even today, when Sparrows are rarer, and we are more aware of their value. Do not fear. For the angry god who longs to condemn us is a lie. Our God is our creator, who knows us intimately and longs for us to come to respond to that knowing, to journey deeper and deeper into our knowledge of God; not just a head knowledge, but a heart and soul knowledge. For our God is a God of love, who longs for us to know truly deeply, that we are loved. That we are worth something to God.
That there is no need to fear, for God knows who we are, and we are worth more than many Sparrows. Even as each Sparrow that falls to the ground is known by God; even as God knows each Sparrow that exists, we are known and loved by God. Knowing and accepting that love takes a certain humility: we can no longer come before God saying ‘look what I do for You’, for God knows what we do, and who for; we can no longer come before God pretending we are better than we are, for God knows who we are and loves us anyway; we can no longer come before God with the idea that we can earn our way into love, for God loves us whoever and however we are (much as there is rejoicing if we do come to follow and realise that love). We can only truly accept the love of God, if we are able and willing to simply receive it, accepting that we may or may not be worthy of it, that we may or may not deserve it. It is there for us and each one of us. We only need to accept that we are worthy before God, as the sparrows are worthy before God, simply because we are.