from Humane Religion

His Eye Is On The Sparrow

In the past few years there has been a steady increase in the number of religious spokesmen who try to alter Christ's teaching about God's concern for sparrows. They claim that the text of Matthew 10:29-31 validates man's claim of dominion over the "lesser" creatures of the earth.

That interpretation has been popularized as the issue of animals as beloved creatures of God, has come to the fore. This understanding has challenged the self-serving theology which taught that animals were created to be utilized by humans, in whatever ways they thought desirable or necessary.

When Christ said to his disciples, "ye are of more value than many sparrows," he was speaking about a fact of economic life, not about heavenly priorities. And his followers knew precisely what he meant. In the time in which they lived, the buying and selling of human beings was as much an accepted part of everyday life as the buying of stocks and bonds in our own time. And although physical condition, gender and other factors affected the sale price of humans, the value of the cheapest slave was far beyond that of any bird. And among birds, the sparrow was the least valued by men.

Jesus told his disciples of God's love for all creatures just after he warned them that the world in which they would preach his Gospel was a hostile place. They would face persecution, and even death, but they were not to be afraid: "Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves....beware of men for they will deliver you up to the councils...but fear not them who can kill the body." (Matt.10:16,28)

They were to be secure in the knowledge of God's care. And in order to insure that they understood the all-encompassing nature of Divine love, he told his disciples that even those creatures upon which men placed little value, were loved and watched over by God. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father" (Matthew 10:29)

When Jesus said God was concerned about the fate of something they considered as trivial as a sparrow, it was a remarkable revelation. Then, as now, human beings assumed that the value they place on something is a reflection of its actual worth. And the price men set on the buying and selling of their own species was far above that of any other: "You are worth more than many sparrows." In the hierarchy of human values this was, literally, true. But the scriptures warn that the value systems of men do not reflect God's values.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts"(Isaiah 55:8,9). But as in so many other matters, this warning is ignored. Instead of accepting the Good News that God cares about the fate of all creatures, during their lives and at their death, there are still those who claim that the rest of creation exists to be used by man, as he sees fit.

In the time of Jesus, the religious establishment tried to nullify his message of God's all-encompassing love and mercy, but the spiritual truths he taught escaped their control. The same is true today. The religious establishment tries to counteract the growing understanding of God's concern for all His creatures. Preachers preach the message of man's right to his dark dominion of the earth and theologians develop theories to uphold it. But even as they do this, Christ's revelation of the unlimited nature of Divine love brings hope to those who are discouraged or feel unworthy. Above the sound and the fury of those who demand belief in a God whose concern is limited to certain groups, or religions, or species, comes the sound of voices raised in gratitude for Christ's revelation of a God whose love is unlimited.

Why should I feel discouraged..* When hope within me dies... His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He cares for me; His eye is on the sparrow, so I know God cares for me.*

*Copyright 1926. Now in public domain

Article copyrighted 2000 by Humane Religion and J.R. Hyland  

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