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Many Sparrows

Matthew 10:24-39

The Rev. Jon Roberts

21 June


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant[a] above his master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant[b] like his master. If they have called the master of the house Be-el′zebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.[c] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.

Many Sparrows

Triptych of the Last Judgment Triptych, by Hans Memling, 1467-1473

Why do we love what is rare but despise everything around us.[1]

Passer Domesticus: You have probably been surrounded by these creatures your entire life and never knew it. They are found flying around on every continent and in every place imaginable. It is the common Sparrow. Sparrows have been seen feeding on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building and even 2000 feet in an underground mine in Yorkshire, UK. They are a small, ubiquitous, brown-winged rat, described by some people who view them as pests. You’ve probably seen them hopping around your feet when eating outside at a restaurant, hoping you’ll get clumsy and drop some crumbs.

Minimizing their importance due to their commonness is not exactly wrong, but it’s also not exactly right. We tend to view the common species poorly. Gold is rare and precious, but fool’s gold is a curse. Biologists are far more intrigued by what is rare and remote. That’s why the species of the Galapagos are studied far more than the creatures you discover in Manhatten. The sparrow, however has a remarkable history. Many have speculated the sparrow came from Europe. Field guides call it the European sparrow and some the English sparrow but it most likely came from Africa. Fossils of jawbones in the sediment of a cave in Israel dates the origin about 100,000 years ago, matching similar records from Africa. The Sparrow apparently migrated because there isn’t any other fossil records until 10-20,000 years ago where we see the common Sparrow that we know today. So, what happened. Evolutionary adaptation took place with human agriculture. Instead of a bird that relied completely on its own, it became more inclined to eat the byproducts of humans.

Sparrows thrived and survived by the billions, as thick as clouds and landed on crops. They ate the seed that fell to the ground and often got in the way. In the 1700s local governments in Europe called for their extermination, even incentivizing the public by paying them for so many dead sparrows they hunted and presented. Then, later, in Asia, came Chairman Mao Zedung. In 1958 he put them on the list of the five greatest pests, ordering farmers to bang pans and pots, scaring the birds so they would die of exhaustion, and once fallen became easy kill. Nets and all kinds of traps were utilized, but there was a bigger problem. The reduction in sparrows created an enormous increase in insects. The insects decimated the crops and in two years a great famine came over China and starvation killed 35 million people. How do we explain this?

At the university of Oslo, they discovered that although adult sparrows eat grain and seed, their young depend on eating insects. The ban was lifted, the numbers of sparrows surged and the insects came under control. Is this not rare, yet found in what is common? If we suspect that all sparrows maligned themselves against their heritage, becoming dependent on human handouts, then that is incorrect. In the middle east there is a sparrow that refused to become domestic and lives to this day on the land, not agriculture. It is not as common. It did not multiply to such abundance but it remained true to its ancient origins.

​Jesus is teaching this lesson of finding what is rare within a despised commonness and restoring the ancient lineage of humanity. He sums it up by saying, “You are of more value than many sparrows.”[2] He tells the historical appreciation and love for what is rare by using the analogies of a teacher with his disciples and a master with his slaves. As disciples who want to be greater than the teacher, or the slave to be free from the master, Jesus acclaims that it is acceptable and “enough” to be like the teacher or the master. It is the desire to want more, when we compromise who we are. Why not do what everyone else is doing? It works for the masses. It works for the mob. Take from others rather than earn and forage on your own. It is easier that way. This is fool’s gold and a curse. Sin is sin, no matter how you look at it, and we always find a way to justify it. We build it even into our legacy where 3-4 generations from now, nobody remembers how we made it on our own. We are completely dependent on others. Is that what God has called us to be?

Jesus spoke frankly to the people of his day, not living in fear of those who threatened him physically, but on guard against the one who could compromise and cut off the soul from God. This is the context to which he used when confronting evil, and in those circumstances he did not come to bring peace but he came to bring a sword. It would be a sword to cut down a dead harvest that bears no grain, infected by those who choose to live in sin. Yet, God still has a way of redeeming the lost. Jesus still finds a way to love the rare instances of our acceptance of our birth rite, as his disciples, his slaves, his children. Whatever position of obedient submission you choose, God desires for you to depend on Him.

And when you do, you are not only rare; you are of more value than many sparrows.

[1] Rob Dunn, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2012,
[2] Matthew 10:24-39

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