I sat looking out the window of the coffee shop as the rain intensified and the water dripped off of the front of my car. Two sparrows flitted down onto the sidewalk and began pecking at the front bumper of my car. I don’t know if they were picking at the bugs stuck to the bumper or if they were catching the drops of water that were dripping from it. Either way, they flitted about in front of my car pecking at something. One of the sparrows turned away from the car and shook vigorously, clearing the gathering water from its wings. Then it hopped under the front of the car, seeking shelter from the rain, which had intensified even more.
We do not give much thought to sparrows. They are so common that we hardly even notice them. Their brown color does not capture our attention, like the cardinal or the blue jay. Their sheer numbers tend to make them less interesting. Yet they are an example of endurance and vitality. They are one of the birds that accompany us throughout the winter. When we had bird-feeders in our back yard, sparrows were always in attendance throughout the year. They have adapted well to living among people. Most backyards boast a fair number of sparrows.
Although we may not give sparrows much attention, God does. Jesus used sparrows to remind us of the depth of God’s love for us. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7) Jesus reminds us that God is paying attention to even the minute details of our world. Few people concern themselves with the fate of a single sparrow, yet God watches over each one. In the same way, God is watching over the minute details of our lives, even to the state of the hair on our head!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus again used sparrows, actually the birds of the air, as an illustration of trusting in God. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26) Jesus is not telling us to neglect food and clothing, but to not obsess over them. His point is, if God cares for the birds of the air, like the common sparrow, will He not care for us who are made in His image?
The Psalmist also draws upon the example of the sparrow. In this context, he is talking about being invited into the very presence of God in worship. It is an image of safety and security, an image of total trust.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young--
a place near your altar,
O Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
God allows the sparrows and swallows to live in close proximity to Him. It is an invitation for us to draw near to God and find rest, comfort, and joy in His presence.
Sparrows are one of the most numerous bird species in North America, and around the world. Almost anywhere that you go you will encounter some variety of sparrow. So it is not without cause that Jesus chose the sparrow as a symbol of God’s loving care for us. Although we too often take it for granted, God’s love and care are constant. The sparrows that occupy our backyards and feast at our feeders are a constant reminder of just how close our loving God is watching over us.