The fifth sparrow.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10:29-30

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Luke 12:6-7

I was mulling these passages over last month while at the beach, watching my children play in the wave break with my husband. My pastor had just preached on this, how Jesus uses the sparrows to teach us not to be anxious; that even the fifth sparrow, an extra bird thrown in for free by the vendor, is not forgotten by God. I wanted that beach day to be blissful, but at some point mid-pandemic winter, old anxious patterns of thinking that had been long dormant started reappearing at the edges of my thoughts. In another life, before I walked with the Lord, I was incapacitated by anxiety. In His great mercy, God has been faithful to heal me increasingly over the years, but this sometimes still happens when I’m enjoying something – irrational fears of the other shoe dropping, the bottom falling out, the rug being ripped out underneath. 

That day, it looked like ‘The kids are becoming strong swimmers, but what about the riptide? What if a shark comes? What if a fellow swimmer bobbing nearby has pre-symptomatic Covid, what if I miss the joy of this day that will pass too quickly and not reappear for another year?’
“Gnats” are what my pastor calls those kinds of thoughts.
Yet “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” The KJV reads “not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father,” and I think that rendering comforts me the most.

The reality is that Jesus teaches us that not one sparrow falls to the ground outside our Father’s care. He does not teach that sparrows do not fall to the ground. 

He says that the flowers of the field are arrayed in such a splendor that their beauty exceeds even King Solomon’s glory (Matt 6:28-30); He does not say that this beauty will last forever. Rather, He tells us that they will fade and then be burned for tomorrow’s fuel. 

Anyone who has ever lost anyone or anything they love knows this, that sparrows die and flowers fade. How interesting that Christ didn’t encourage us with “what you fear will never happen” but “today certainly will have its trouble, and you cannot avoid tomorrow’s – yet do not be afraid, for your Father’s eye is ever on you.” 

His promise is not that bad things don’t happen, but that when they do, we have the assured tender care of our heavenly Father. We have the confidence and comfort that if a sparrow is not forgotten, neither are we. Even the fifth sparrow, the one that is worthless in the vendor’s sight, is valuable enough to retain God’s full attention – and that is enough to bring us to our knees in awe. If His eye is on the sparrow, how much more are we. 

In truth, no one’s anxiety or self-preservation has ever effectively held off the blow when bad news inevitably comes. The blows of life do come. An anxious state does not serve us; not only because it cannot prevent the sparrow from falling, or the lily from fading, or the riptide from coming, but because it robs us from enjoying the sparrows flight and song, and the lilies’ scent and beauty, and the delight of our children and lap of the waves today. 

The promise of the fifth sparrow is that even our worst days do not occur outside the realm of His watchful eye and care. He knows our need, every moment; “to our weakness He is no stranger.” He is near, and that is the promise of Emmanuel. Today, He sustains us. Through each breath of our lungs and beat in our chest, the rhythm is “‘I AM’ near.” Tomorrow will be the same. He was, He is, and He will be; His arm is never too short to save. God’s portion is to order the universe. Ours is to trust, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and to know that our Father knows our needs and will care for them with an eye keener and kinder than our own. 

I ended up joining my family in the surf, and it was perfect. You already know that no one got bit by a shark, washed away by a riptide, infected with latent covid, not even sunburned. It was indeed, bliss. 

I know that one day, the gnats that try to bring a haze over my sunny days will thin out again. In the meantime, He has already sustained me through far worse, He continues to sustain me today, and the joy of my faith means I have great confidence that He will sustain me tomorrow too. For the lines of my favorite hymn are true; He gives strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow – blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside. 

Take heart, friend. He is near. 

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