Sunday, June 22, 2008

His eye is on the sparrow

In last week’s Gospel Jesus sent out his twelve apostles as “labourers into the harvest”, or (to change the metaphor) to preach the Gospel “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 9:37; 10:6). He then warned them that they would be persecuted. (See Matthew 10:16-22).

So, Jesus knew there would be problems!

In today’s Gospel, he told them that things would go wrong; doubts would arise; some of the hearers would become hostile and reject their message. But he also told them to “have no fear;” that, whatever happened to them, they could be men of faith because God loved them and promised to protect them.

He said to them, (as he says to you and me), “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31) You and I are precious to him!

In the culture of Jesus and the apostles, sparrows were insignificant, and a bit of a nuisance. They ate grain and insects and swarmed in noisy flocks. They built nests in the eaves of houses. (Remember, though, that the Lord was hospitable to them when they built their nests in the Temple - Psalm 84:3!) They were such social creatures that a solitary sparrow became a powerful symbol of deep loneliness (Psalm 102:7).

The “copper coin,” is an “asarion”- a tiny coin worth (we are told) no more than 20 cents in our money. Those who were very poor and could not afford to sacrifice a sheep or a goat were allowed to bring a sparrow to the Temple (cf. Leviticus 14:1-7).

Sparrows had so little value that if you bought four, you were likely to get an extra one thrown in for free (Luke 12:4-7). It was this extra sparrow of which Jesus said, “and not one of them is forgotten before God.”

In 1905, a woman called Civilla Martin and her husband were staying in New York. They had become friendly with a very devout couple, by the name of Doolittle. Mrs Doolittle had been bedridden for twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who relied on his wheel chair to get around. Yet it is said that the Doolittles brought love and joy into the lives of many. Civilla Martin wrote:

“One day . . . my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs Doolittle’s reply was simple: ‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.’

“The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr Martin and me. The hymn ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was the outcome of that experience.’

“Why should I feel discouraged,

why should the shadows come,

why should my heart be lonely

and long for Heaven and home,

when Jesus is my portion?

My constant Friend is he:

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,”

his tender word I hear,

and resting on his goodness,

I lose my doubts and fears;

though by the path he leadeth

but one step I may see:

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.

“Whenever I am tempted,

whenever clouds arise,

when songs give place to sighing,

when hope within me dies,

I draw the closer to him;

from care he sets me free;

his eye is on the sparrow,

and I know he watches me.

“I sing because I’m happy,

I sing because I’m free,

For his eye is on the sparrow,

And I know he watches me”

To this day Mrs Martin’s hymn is sung in churches of most traditions in the USA - especially by black choirs among whom it quickly evolved into a “spiritual.” But it is also etched on the back of my mind, having been among the first pieces I learned to play as an accompanist for a soloist friend when I was a young teenager. The musical genre is not everybody's cup of tea, but over the years its words have encouraged me in times of difficulty. Truly, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me!”


Can Bass 1 said...

You do realise that that's a corn bunting, not a sparrow!

Anonymous said...

You might be right . . . but according to the source of the picture it is a "saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow", and I chose it from the others because the colours were so stunning. See:

Post a Comment