Thursday, June 22, 2017

His eye is on the Sparrow

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Over the years, I’ve become quite an expert of all sorts at self-pity. Some of you may know the feeling, “No one cares about me.” “No one understands me.” “No one really bothers about my well-being.” To help me ascertain the intensity of the feeling, I’ve come up with an index of three degrees. Starting at the lowest level, there is, “NBC” – “Nobody’s child.” Followed by the next level of intensity, “NBLM” “Nobody loves me.” “Ouch!” But the one that tops the barometer of self-loathing is “EHM” “Everybody hates me.” This may have more to do with the fear of not being loved than the fear of being insulted or rejected. Perhaps, this index may come in useful when you have to negotiate the hills and valleys of community life. It’s not hard to feel misunderstood, alienated, estranged and wronged when you are in the company of strangers, minus the family members, friends and acquaintances. But on second thought, better watch out for them too!  Often enough, the nastiest sting often comes from those who are the closest. In a tight space, we often end up rubbing more than shoulders and elbows, rather we seem to successfully rub each other’s ego in the wrong way.

I guess that’s what a little leaven of self-doubt and poor self-esteem does to us. Our Lord had warned us of the leaven of the Pharisees, the putrid, demoralising, bitter negativity that usually begins in small ways and that are often dismissed as too minor for our attention. But it is this leaven, when allowed to fester and breed, that will infect our entire outlook of things. It often begins with the way we view ourselves – as insignificant, not worthy of love or attention, and then it is projected unto others who are blamed as the catalyst and cause of our woes. Rather than expecting and watching out for the insults and mud that will be flung at us by others, we should honestly acknowledge that we are capable of doing greater damage to ourselves than we realise.

Perhaps, the reason why we see so little value in ourselves is because we fail to see how much value we have in the eyes of God. This is at the heart of what Jesus conveys in today’s gospel. Out of all the things He could have chosen, Jesus chose the sparrow; a bird so common, it was practically worthless. Sparrows do not draw attention to themselves. Sparrows are not majestic like eagles. Bird watchers, who seem to have a fascination for all sorts of feathered friends, don’t go sparrow-watching.  No, sparrows are in-descript as you see them momentarily flutter by. During the time of Jesus, a person could buy two sparrows at the price of one cent. If one were to pay two cents, a free bird was thrown in. This must have been one of the earliest recorded super value deals. We may not esteem the tiny sparrow, but the Lord tells us that not one sparrow is forgotten before God. He uses this buy-four-get-one-free practice to illustrate how much God values every single life. If God is concerned about the tiny sparrow, how much greater must His concern be for man! If God notices, values, and cares about a tiny sparrow, then how much more must God notice, value, and care about us.

While it is a great encouragement to know that God values the seemingly insignificant sparrow, it is even more encouraging that He values us so much that He takes an interest in every possible detail about us. The Lord revealed the extent of God’s interest by stating that “every hair on your head has been counted.” There is no place we can go, no word we can say, no act too small for God’s notice. If God can give so much value to the tiny worthless sparrow and the insignificant strain of hair, what more, the entire person. As one rotund comedian often commented about her size, “There is so much more of me to Love.”

There are many, many things in this world that argue well as to the worthlessness of man.  What is a man to the world?  That is one soul among billions that inhabit this third planet from the sun.  All the world itself, I suppose, is so put together that a man might have reason to think that whether he lives or dies- what is it?  Like a pebble on a beach or just like one other star in the sky?  Who are we on the earth, and what is our earth in its universe? When I stare into the skies, the eternal silence of the infinite terrifies me.  When they tell us of the light years and billions of light years that separate the earth from other planets, the stars and the galaxies in this universe, in this great cosmic creation; and when they tell us our galaxy is one of the smallest of all, and our earth is one of the smallest planets around the sun –– when you read those astronomical figures, what is a man on the earth?  What is your life, or mine?
That is the reason science, with all its promise of a better future, often ends in defeatism and despair.  That is the reason infidelity is dead and cold.  That is the reason why it is so essential that you and I have to embrace the promise of Christ.  That is the reason why the Lord assures us that even if it came to the seemingly insignificant extra sparrow which no one pays attention to, thrown in for nothing – but, God saw it when it fell to the ground.  It is the old and neglected, the poor and the homeless, the one who has lost his way or his faith, the one who suffers loneliness and depression, or the newly formed embryo in a mother’s womb, the one who no one sees, but God sees them all. God knows, God understands, because each single person is truly precious and valuable in His eyes, even when the person doesn’t seem to be worthy or deserving of it. Not a single one falls that God didn’t see it.

During moments of self-doubt, during times of home-sickness, during days of loneliness and disaffection, when we are tempted to think, “No one cares for me” or “No one loves me”, as we plod along with heavy hearts and sore feet, let us always remember the truth of what the Lord says at the very end of today’s gospel. Not even the tiny sparrows escape the notice of God. “Every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.”  

Some of you may remember this gospel song popularised by the movie Sister Act, “The Eye of the Sparrow,” written by Mrs Civilla Martin at the turn of the 20th century.  In 1904, Mrs. Martin, went to visit a bedridden friend in New York. She asked the woman if she ever got discouraged because of her physical condition. Her friend quickly responded: “Mrs. Martin, how can I be discouraged when my heavenly Father watches over each little sparrow and I know He loves and cares for me?” On her journey back home, Mrs. Martin completed the writing of her new text, which has since been a source of much encouragement to many.

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come, why should my heart be lonely and long for Heaven and home, when Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He: His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me...
“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear, and resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears; though by the path He leadeth but one step I may see: His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me...
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise, when songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies, I draw the closer to Him; from care He sets me free; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me...
Let’s face it: It is hard to remember, hard to live without fear, hard to live with the assurance of God’s profuse care of even us. But our perspective changes when we remember, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

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