Summary: Bad things do happen to good people. In Matthew 10, Jesus warns the disciples what will happen to them on their mission and then he reminds them that they were, are, and will be precious to God!
It is clearly in our nature to rate and rank others. When Jesus tells us today that we are of more value than sparrows, we’re probably not surprised, but we may wonder about the hierarchy of creation. We’re worth more than sparrows, and sparrows are certainly worth more than mosquitoes, but since we tend to rank successful philanthropists over axe murderers, perhaps we wonder if all of those sparrows are equal in the eyes of God.
Thirty-five-year-old Karen, a devout Baptist, is driving to visit a friend of hers in hospital; a friend with whom she usually plays tennis each week. As always, she knows that the biggest hassle will be finding parking space within walking distance of the hospital. She prays that God will provide her with one. As she enters the parking lot, she notices another car trolling for a spot. Oh, how frustrating! But then, just ahead of her, a vehicle’s back up lights come on and she grabs that spot. Once parked, she pauses to thank God for his favor.
Also visiting the hospital that day is 77-year-old Olga. She is a devout Lutheran who had prayed for God’s help to get her through another difficult day. Her husband is struggling with an infection following bypass surgery. Olga’s car is the one Karen outmaneuvered to grab the last parking spot. Olga spent another 15 minutes out in the full parking lot, trolling until another vehicle finally left. It is a long walk to the hospital entrance, but Olga remembered to bring her cane that day so she moves slowly but safely toward her husband’s room.
Did God favour Baptist Karen over Lutheran Olga? Does this mean that Karen’s faith is stronger or that Baptist theology is superior?
Was my head-on collision in 2009 a message of judgment from God or was that judgment meant for the other driver who was in the wrong lane? Neither of us were badly injured, but my car was totalled and her’s wasn’t. She got a ticket and higher insurance rates. I got a new car and a great story to share.
We know that there is great meaning in situations like these, but the meaning we usually attach is not necessarily the correct meaning. Sometimes it does appear that God hears the prayers of some and not others.
But faith is not supposed to be like an insurance policy against tragedy. Bad things do happen to good people. And sometimes people we would consider to be“lesser” appear to have blest lives.
Today, Jesus reminds us: 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.
This is a well-known passage, but it’s usually removed from its context. As the Tenth Chapter of Matthew begins, Jesus prepares to send the disciples out to “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” An incredible adventure awaits them, but he continues by warning them that they won’t always be welcomed. He refers to them as ‘sheep in the midst of wolves’ and warns that they may be handed over to councils, flogged in synagogues, and dragged before governors and kings. I’m guessing that at this point, the disciples are looking back at him with deer-in-the-headlight eyes, maybe even raising their hands ready to “un-volunteer” for this adventure.
Jesus, reading their faces as well as their hearts, uses the sentences about the sparrows and the hairs on our heads to calm their fears. While they are out there in the world, sent out in pairs, Jesus hasn’t abandoned them. God is keeping close tabs on them every moment of every day. That doesn’t mean they won’t have trouble – in fact they will – but trouble doesn’t mean that they have been forsaken.
What’s important here is what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “you’ll be handed over to councils if you have un-repented sin.” He doesn’t say, “you’ll be flogged in synagogues if you remember to say grace before every meal.” He doesn’t say, “you’ll be dragged before governors and kings if you don’t fast one day a week.”
No. The world’s response to the Gospel was and is often negative because Jesus and his message threaten earthly order. And even the most faith-filled pious Christians can get caught in that.
But at those times, Jesus wants us to remember that we are precious to God. Earthly powers can’t take that away. Our sinfulness can’t take it away either. Even when we feel alone, we will not BE alone.
Sparrows will still fall, our hair will still thin, but God is there always, fully aware of what is going on… In times of peace and times of struggle… In times of laughter and times of tears… In times of persecution as well as times of apathy.