We take as our text for today’s lesson the Gospel of Matthew, chapter ten, verse twenty-nine:
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
Sometimes it so happens that you will go to a sparrow-seller to make purchase of a pair of sparrows, only for him to state an asking price of more than a farthing. Or he might charge a farthing for a single sparrow, but throw in a second sparrow with a “Buy One, Get One Free” offer, in which case you will pay a farthing for two sparrows even if the one sparrow costs a farthing in itself. Thereagain, you might find yourself being offered a free sparrow by a seller of, say, partridges or linnets, who has an unwanted stock of sparrows and cannot wait to be rid of them, for they are greedily eating up his grain and millet that he would rather feed to his partridges or linnets.
So when we ask the question, as we must, are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?, the answer is no, not always, not in all circumstances, come what may, for there may be times and places where we will be asked to pay more, or less, for a pair of sparrows. And from this we can learn much about the ways of God and Man. Yes, the honest sparrow-seller will hand us two sparrows upon receipt of a farthing, but not all sparrow-sellers are honest, while some sparrow-sellers are too honest for their own good. And, as with sparrow-sellers, so too those from whom we buy other birds, not just partridges and linnets, but starlings, and kittiwakes, and seagulls.
But what of the second part of the verse from Matthew 10, that one of them – that is, the sparrows – that one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father? The first part of the verse is a question. The second part is not. It states, quite vehemently and unchallengeably, that, without your Father, one of the sparrows will not fall on the ground. But which of the sparrows is it that shall not fall? One of them will, and one of them will remain in the air, in flight and birdy swooping, until your Father appears, at which point, we must assume, it will plunge towards the earth, just because your Father has arrived.
The more one studies this passage, and I have studied it for years and years, the more problems it raises. Why does one sparrow fall on the ground without your Father? Why does the other sparrow fall on the ground when your Father appears? Is your Father armed with a shotgun, or a catapult? Does His mere presence induce in the tiny frail sparrow a heart attack? And if He can have that effect on a sparrow, what of other birds, partridges, say, or linnets, or starlings or kittiwakes or seagulls or robins or wrens, or even hummingbirds?
These are profound questions, and we must dig deep to answer them, deeper, certainly, than a sparrow may need to dig to light upon a fat juicy earthworm for its morning snack. My own experience has taught me that all that digging will be as nought unless one has first found a sparrow-seller to sell one a pair of sparrows for a farthing. Alas, in this day and age, more leaden than golden, such sparrow-sellers are rare indeed, rarer even than the proverbial hen’s teeth. But the hen is quite another class of bird from a sparrow, as you will know if you have ever kept poultry.
Thus sayeth the Lord.
This piece first appeared in 2011. It seemed particularly pertinent to repost it on today of all days.