Yoder-Short: Sparrow watcher

Jan 29, 2018 by

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“God sees the sparrows.” This phrase’s comforting appeal melted as I watched our cat dining on a sparrow. Life can be bloody and cruel. God seeing sparrows didn’t change this bird’s demise.

Jane Yoder-Short

Yoder-Short

Jesus’ words regarding God noticing sparrows sit among warnings about persecution. Jesus is sending his disciples out into a corrupt world, like sheep among wolves, like sparrows among cats. He doesn’t sugarcoat discipleship. He is clear that confrontations will happen. Since Jesus was denounced, his disciples can expect to be disgraced, misunderstood and hated, even dragged before those in power (Matt. 10:16-25). The bit about sparrows is no guarantee of safety.

Being a disciple means heading for trouble. This passage feels like a superhero movie. The heroes walk into enemy terrain knowing traps are set. Arrows and insults will fly. Bloodshed and persecution will ensue. This doesn’t stop them from acting.

Pointing out that God sees the sparrows is meant to empower the disciples not to be afraid of what people can do. Three times, Jesus urges his disciples to have no fear (verses 26, 28, 31). Who should you be afraid of? The synagogue bosses? The Roman authorities? Pilate? Their power is limited. The power to kill is nothing. Enter the sparrows. The One with the real power, the Giver of Life, does not miss what’s happening. God notices even cheap sparrows.

We no longer fear synagogue bosses or Roman authorities, but fear still abounds. We fear terrorists and nuclear war. We fear being seen as unpatriotic. We fear differing beliefs and ethnicities. We fear losing status, being seen as weak, car crashes and cancer, church gossip. How does hearing about sparrows help put our fears in perspective?

God seeing the sparrows is no assurance of an easy life. Pain happens, but we can find courage and comfort in knowing that God is aware. God seeing sparrows frees us to act in spite of our fears. It empowers us to walk toward wolves and not be intimidated. God sees and is on the side of love. We find courage knowing that God’s way of love eventually triumphs.

Jesus-followers are risk-takers sent out to live bravely under the brand of Jesus. We are rooted in a history of risk-taking. The 16th-century Anabaptists risked execution as heretics. During World War I, Mennonites risked prison to follow Jesus’ way of enemy-love.

Are we living in safer times? Have we lost the courage to be risk-takers? If we keep our ears open, we continue to hear of risk-takers. We hear of Congolese Mennonites in the midst of violence risking their welfare to share with neighbors. We hear of peace­build­er Michael J. Sharp risking and losing his life. We hear of churches risking criticism to become sanctuaries.

Risk-taking possibilities surround us. What are we willing to risk? Are we ready to risk job security to speak out against exploitation? To risk coziness to love our unfamiliar neighbors? To risk our tidy views in order to listen non-judgmentally?

It doesn’t seem comforting to know God sees the sparrows in the midst of a cat’s bloody lunch, but we know a new world is on the way. Isaiah taught us to envision a world where the wolf lives with the lamb. Maybe the cat will sit next to the sparrow, conservatives and liberals will chat fearlessly, distrust between economic classes will disappear, racial fear will dissolve. Who knows what the year will bring as risk-taking Jesus-flavored heroes act despite their fears.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.


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  • Wilbur H. Entz

    You’re right Jean life can be bloody and cruel. Charles Darwin said it in an even worse way – “nature is red in tooth and claw”. The Apostle Paul said it in a much better way – Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). You are right, the sanctification of our souls can be very costly, but I do sincerely question whether church gossip really needs to be included in that list of costs – it does not.

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