Only A Sparrow
by Tim O'Hearn
Many people love to watch birds. They plant gardens with birds in mind. They erect birdbaths and bird feeders to attract birds. Some even keep a daily record of the numbers and types of birds seen. The true birdwatcher might not make the following entry, but the average person might: “Today only sparrows.” After all, there are the pretty, exotic or rare Birds, and then there is the common house sparrow. And yet it may be the commonness and plainness of the sparrow that merits mention in the scriptures. Granted, only four passages talk about sparrows, and two of those may be parallel. Nevertheless, the sparrow gets mentioned, and the chicken does not.
“By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin. I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me.” (Ps 102:5-8) This psalmist is in a poor state indeed. Nobody wants to be with him. He is, as his nation was at the time, an outcast and a byword. He describes himself as a solitary pelican or owl. Then he shows how forlorn he truly is. He says he watches “as a sparrow alone on the house top.” Now that is desolate indeed. When was the last time you saw a sparrow alone anywhere? One of the things that make people hate sparrows is that they congregate. They are supremely social birds, and that is why they can abide human habitation. A lone sparrow on the housetop is about as desperate a strait that can be imagined.
Most people are not fond of sparrows. They are plain; they are common; and they are nuisances. It is just that dislike that makes the other references to sparrows significant.
“Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.” (Ps 84:3) Some say sparrows will build their nests anywhere, and that may be true. One of the places they built nests was the Temple. This psalmist, possibly someone taken to Babylon in the first deportation, longs to be able to go to God’s house. Why, even the sparrows can lodge there, but he cannot see it. “A day in thy courts is better than a thousand” elsewhere. (v. 10) Even the lowly sparrow is allowed many days in those courts. If a sparrow, why not me? If God allows a sparrow to dwell in his presence, how much more should I want to dwell there! I am better than a sparrow.
It is that last statement that is the point of the remaining two passages about sparrows: Matt 10:29-31 and Lk 12:6-7. On possibly two different occasions Jesus talks about how little we need to fear. His point is that if God takes care of sparrows, how much more he takes care of us, because we are more valuable than the sparrows. In Matthew he says two sparrows sold for a small amount. Luke records that five sparrows sold for twice that amount. That means that one sparrow gets tossed in for nothing. If God takes notice of even that sparrow that is thrown in for free, why should we worry? Why should we fear? Sparrows are virtually valueless. The value placed on a person, though, is the blood of the Son of God.
In the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, the ne’er-do-well pirate captain is named Jack Sparrow. If Cap’n Jack Sparrow were a real person, God would take care of even him, because God values even a Sparrow.