In my young naturalist days, I used to do a lot of bird-watching. In the woods of northern New Jersey, I could identify every bird by sight and by song, except the migratory warblers that were more of a challenge. Since my move to the west coast, I’ve found that the cast of bird characters is just different enough that I’m often unsure of myself.
The other day, I was sitting in my dentist’s chair with nothing to look at but the tree outside the window. A bird came into view and spent a few minutes pecking at the branches, presumably lunching on insects. I studied his coloration and his markings, sure that I could identify him from my bird guide back in my office. I was sure I would be rewarded with an “Aha!” moment. I fumbled through the pages, and there he was — a SPARROW! His markings were slightly different on this side of the continent from those of his cousins who lived in my boyhood back yard. But he was still just a sparrow. What a letdown!
Then it occurred to me that this small brown flitting thing was a miracle of God’s creation. His anatomy and physiology were just as amazingly complex as those of the most colorful exotic bird in the jungles of Ecuador. Who knows, his life cycle may be more interesting than mine. And here I was, discounting him as just a sparrow.
Last night, we were watching a movie on TV, and one of the lead characters sang the familiar spiritual “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”:
Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely
And long for Heav’n and home?
When Jesus is my portion,
My constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He cares for me.
This simple song of faith grows out of the teaching of Jesus:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)
The people of Jesus’ day had a low view of sparrows, just as we do. His reference was to the sale of animals for ritual sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem. Really poor people couldn’t afford to purchase a lamb or a goat, so provision was made for them to substitute a sparrow instead. These could be bought from the 99-Cent Store or a street vendor for next to nothing.
Jesus was not promising that we would be protected from suffering, any more than the sparrow would be able to avoid his fate as a sacrifice. But he was assuring us that God would not abandon us in our life struggles. (Knowing that my heavenly Father has counted all the hairs on my head makes my baldness more tolerable. I fantasize that he is saving them for me in a heavenly box.)
It’s a mind-blowing idea that God is so intimately involved in his creation that he has been aware of every sparrow death throughout the many millions of generations of the sparrow species. Maybe that’s why sparrows sing.
Knowing that God cares so deeply about you, right now, as you’re going through your latest episode of self-doubting, can set you to singing like a sparrow as well:
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.
— Pastor George Van Alstine