When searching for a story’s heart, sometimes a seemingly insignificant detail turns out to be key.
In Matthew’s 10th chapter, Jesus lays out a series of ideas. He tells us everything will be out in the open and nothing concealed, then prods us to proclaim our faith from the rooftops, and finally promises to speak up for us before his Father. At first disconnected, might there be some detail that draws them together?
A commentator suggests a surprising one, The Lord’s mention of a tiny bird.
Jesus pictures a sparrow dropping to its death out of the sky. But he goes on to affirm that his loving Father takes notice of even that insignificant happening. No matter how minor it seems, it does matter to Him. If so small an event can draw forth divine compassion, how much more does the Father care for each of us, especially when we fall. Jesus is highlighting the loving attention God showers on every one of us.
That thread winds through this section of Matthew’s gospel. The Lord is on the road with his disciples and they are all tasting not just the acclaim He receives but also the opposition. To calm their fear, Jesus switches to images: a small coin and the sparrow it purchases, the many hairs on a person’s head. If the Father notices such minute things, how much more does He notice and cherish each of you. This is the God who, in Paul’s phrase, “abounds in love and compassion.”
Over the centuries, so many believers were able to reach back for one or another gospel icon that opened their senses to God’s care. Might it have been:
- that sparrow falling to the ground and then revived,
- that lost lamb taken up into the steady arms of the shepherd,
- that battered traveler picked up and soothed by the Good Samaritan,
- that wary woman at the well whose fears Jesus melted away,
- one of Vincent de Paul’s many images for the presence of Christ in the poor?
For the early Church, figures like these transmitted courage and allowed the disciples to walk on in the face of opposition. I can imagine one of them in some threatening situation years later catching sight of a tiny bird overhead and feeling the relief of Jesus’ assurance.
Small gems such as these to be found in our Scriptures and our Family heritage have a way of releasing meanings which open reservoirs of half-forgotten hope.