Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”
Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. Is that comforting? How much are sparrows worth? When they’re barbecued and put on a skewer they’re sold for 2 a penny. Talk about cheap meat. Sparrow kabobs. But not to fear, we are worth more than many sparrows.
The refrain, “Don’t be afraid,” appears over and over in scripture. Again and again. Any time someone has a divine encounter. Don’t be afraid. Any time angels show up, they say what they always say, Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. But that refrain, Don’t be afraid, rarely comes with any kind of explanation. Don’t be afraid, because… It’s just Don’t be afraid. Period.
Except here we actually do get an explanation. Don’t be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows. … I’m not sure that really helps. There is a lot to be afraid of. How exactly does a flock of sparrows offset mutating viruses, distracted drivers, the fickleness of love, and cancer, and melting glaciers?
Not to mention all the internal fears—those inescapable feelings of isolation, worthlessness, meaninglessness. A friend of mine tells me that when she leaves the room her three year old cries out, “I don’t want to be alone!” That fear of isolation is deep.
And the fear of worthlessness: I don’t matter. I’m not good enough. I’ll never be enough.
And meaninglessness: what is the point of all this? Does it even matter?
Isolation, worthlessness, meaninglessness—there’s plenty to be afraid of.
But Jesus says don’t worry about that. You’re worth more than many sparrows.
Sparrows are little birds. Most weigh about an ounce. An ounce. Like a bite of cheese, more or less. Seems pretty inconsequential.
And there are a lot of sparrows. They are one of the most common animals in the world. They are literally everywhere. They’re not special. And they’re not big.
And most people don’t really like them. Or at least, bird people don’t. Field guides describe them as bland, dingy, and dull, with songs that are monotonous and grating. Once a sparrow interrupted a lecture St. Dominic was giving. It made him so mad that he caught it, declared it an incarnation of the devil himself, and proceeded to pluck off all its feathers. Which might say more about St. Dominic than the sparrow. But lots of birders don’t like sparrows, either. They move into an area and take over the best nesting spots of native songbirds. So birders go to great lengths to keep them out. Sometimes drastic measures are taken. Sparrows have been killed.
Sparrows are not special. And they’re not big. And they’re often unwanted. Best case, ignored. Sometimes butterflied, roasted, and sold on a kabob, two for a penny.
But don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.
Is Jesus kidding?
Maybe. He can be sharp and satirical and funny. But I think he’s serious here. You are worth more than many sparrows. I think if he’s being funny the humor is an invitation to look up and laugh.
Laughing a little at our fears, defuses them. You’re worth more than a whole flock of sparrows. A flock! You have to look up to see a flock. Which means we can’t have our heads buried in our fears.
It’s not an accident it’s a natural image. In the face of fear, Jesus points us toward creation. Look! See those birds lifting in the air as one? Fluttering, flapping, coming back down to rest. You are as beautiful as they. You and those sparrows are knit into the fabric of creation. Looking up, looking out, finding our place in creation always helps.
I have twins. When they were less than a year old, they were each seriously ill, in quick succession. I spent time in the hospital with each of them. It was a scary season. I don’t think I’ve ever shared this, because it sounds fairly ridiculous, even to my ears, but the most comforting thing that fall was not “prayer” in any formal sense, or my beliefs or good theology, or even the presence of other people.
The most comforting thing was spider webs. Seriously, spider webs. Everywhere. You can laugh. It’s okay. I do. It’s weird to have a very serious conversation with a pediatric cardiologist and then go look for spider webs. But they were everywhere I looked that fall.
And I came to believe that just as these webs were suspended in the tension between two branches, and held the world together for their spiders, so there was a web holding me. They felt like a sign to be that we are all being held, as if by a web. Do not be afraid. There are spiders weaving webs even now. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than a whole flock of sparrows.
We’re not alone. We’re not on our own. There’s a whole, big, God-saturated world out there: ancient trees and giant mountains, and spider webs and sparrows. Don’t be afraid, you are part of it, connected, held.
And you don’t have to be spectacularly beautiful. Even the sparrows have a place. And what could be more common than a sparrow? Maybe pigeons
And yet, in the right light, when they lift up from the earth in a flock, beating and flapping and flying together? They are transcendent. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.
Each of us, sparrows and spiders, people and pigeons, we are each a child of the Creator. Beautiful. Worthy. Not because of education, or accomplishment, or temperament, or spiritual depth, or attractiveness, or anything else. Worthy because we are created in the image of the Creator. Holy because we are created in the image of the Holy One. Beloved because we are created by and for Love.
In the face of our fears of isolation, worthlessness, and meaninglessness, Jesus claims: you are held, seen, and known. Like the sparrow.
Which is not to say there will not be suffering and death. There will be. The sparrow is roasted and sold as meat—two for a penny. The sparrow falls. The hairs on our head fall out, sometimes at an alarming rate. Sometimes because of age, or genetics, or new motherhood, or the drugs that we hope will save us from cancer. There are many reasons to be afraid.
But all of this is held, seen, and known within the web of creation. That’s the promise. We are connected to something that is far greater than ourselves. The Spirit draws us into a web. The sparrow is seen. The sparrow is known. Our hearts beat seventy times a minute; a sparrow’s beats eight hundred times a minute. At rest we breathe about eighteen times a minute; a sparrow, ninety times. All those heart beats. All those breaths. They are one breath, the breath of the Spirit that hovered over the water and breathes in all creation. The breath of life. The breath of God.
Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. You are seen, and known, and loved.