Do Sparrows Have Hair?


Jesus speaks to us today in 3 short paragraphs, and what is their theme? "Do sparrows have hair?" There are other statements like this that whether the answer be yes' or no' it's obvious. "Do chickens have lips?" "Is the Pope Catholic?" "Do sparrows have hair?"

Is a slave above his master? I know the insert says servant' as most English translations do, but it is the slave/master relationship that is referred to. And the answer is obvious. Of course not. If a slave were above his master, he would no longer be the slave but the master. But what does Jesus mean when He says, "It is enough for the slave to be like his master?" That can't mean an overthrow of the slave/master relationship. It must mean the slave is in a like situation as the master. He lives like he does and that's all a slave can expect.

Isn't that Good News in Paradise? Slaves go where the Master of Paradise goes. Slaves get what He does. "I'd rather be a doorkeeper in the House of the Lord than dwell in the tents of wickedness," says Psalm 84:10. It's just the opposite of Satan in Paradise Lost saying, "Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven." No, better to be a slave of the Master of heaven, earth, and hell too than to be your own master.

Yes, a slave is like his master, and that is Good News in Paradise, but bad news on earth. Well, that's what it sounds like to me. Jesus says if they called Him, the Head of the House, Beelzebub, which He explains in 12:24 means "ruler of the demons," how much more the members of His house. History shows slaves of Christ were called "imposters," "odor of the human race," and atheoi, "without God", was used as a synonym for Christian (Nicoll, I, 165). So? "Sticks and stones" hurt but names never hurt me. No? Try identifying yourself as a slave of Christ at a gay marriage rally, a pro-abortion march, or even in a polite discussion about how all religions lead to heaven.

The only thing I can say to comfort you at this point is that sparrows don't have hair. They're not mammals, so they don't have hair. Yet what does Jesus say. Listen carefully. He doesn't say not one of them falls to the ground" but "not one of them falls to the ground "apart" literally "without the knowledge and consent of God." There's comfort there, but not as much as you hoped. So let's move on.

Is a slave like his master? Yes. Is a sparrow afraid of a cat? Yes, but Jesus says in effect it needn't be. Actually what He says is, "Don't start down the road of fear at all!" Right after telling us that they're going to calls His slaves worse names than they did Him Jesus emphatically says, "So don't even start being afraid of them."

You probably know that fear can run quickly to panic because it's downhill all the way. But Jesus knows those dwelling in His house well. He knows we sinfully give way to fear in the face of just name calling let alone any physical persecution. So the next 2 times Jesus says, "Do not be afraid" although the insert treats them the same as the first, they are different. The next to 2 times Jesus says if you are afraid you must stop it. He forbids continuing to be afraid.

I know; I know; that seems quaint, prosaic, simple minded. Sure it might be if I told you that but it's a different matter when the House Master, the Lord of heaven and earth says, "You must stop being afraid." When Jesus commands the widow of Nain to stop crying for her dead son and the mourners of Jairus' daughter to stop crying for the dead 12-year-old, He is saying with Him present there is no need for tears even in the face of death. Here Jesus says there is no need for fear in the face of death or to fear that the Father doesn't love you enough to watch over you.

But in between the 2 commands, which are really permissions to let fear go, Jesus says "Fear this." You still see that bumper sticker sometimes. I've seen guys in the military with that tattoo. Jesus said it first. Jesus said, "If you really want to start fearing something, if you have a need, a desire, a compulsion to fear, then fear this. Stop fearing the one who at his worst can kill the body; fear God who can not only kill the body but damn the soul."

Jesus is doing like the ancient physician who wanted to stop his patient from drinking wine. He told him he could drink as much as he wanted as often as he wanted but only from this one particular cup. He returned weeks later and smashed that cup. Jesus puts all of our fear in one basket and then smashes that basket. How does He do that? By talking about hairless sparrows of course.

Who on earth should be afraid of the God who keeps closer watch over the hairs on their head than over the hairless sparrows that use human hair for their nests? God the Father keeps track of the sparrows flying over your head that you don't even notice. That sparrow doesn't meet with your car bumper apart from the knowledge and consent of God, but God keeps even closer tabs on you. He doesn't count their feathers; He does count your hairs. Even if you're balding, even if you're a woman, I doubt you count the hairs you leave on your pillow or in a brush each day. You know how new moms and dads will count teeth and maybe even the first growth of hair? Well God Almighty does that all the time.

The sparrow need not be afraid of a cat if the cat is under your control. But enough talk of sparrows here. Jesus says, "You are worth more than many sparrows." You are worth more to God than His only Son. You are worth more to God the Father than the Son whom He called "Beloved" and with whom He is well-pleased. Rather than pull out one of your hairs in anger over your very real sins, rather than send you hair and all to hell to burn eternally for your sins, God the Father nodded and the Devil sent his minions to pull the hair of Jesus, to press a crown of thorns down on Jesus head. God the Father didn't do that for sparrows, but for you.

In Luke 12 He commands us, "Study the birds of the air; contemplate them; give them more than the passing glance that you do." That's not a study in randomness, coincidence, or luck. That sparrow flitting here and there is testimony to the providential care of God. Nothing happens to that sparrow apart from the knowledge and consent of God. Does it sit in its nest worrying about tomorrow, afraid there won't be enough food or of the cat next door? How can it be so carefree when to us a helpless, insignificant bird like that has plenty to fear? Because the sparrow knows what it's worth in the eyes of its Creator and Master. You are to know you're worth more than many sparrows; you're worth more than the only Son of God.

Now we're down to the last paragraph. We've asked, "Is a slave above his master?" And we got the expected answer, "No." And we've asked, "Is a sparrow afraid of a cat?" and got the unexpected answer, "It doesn't have to be," and now we ask, "Does a Christian confess his faith?" And now we're back to fearing. We think of Stephen dying confessing his faith. We think of John confessing till his head was lopped off. And all we can think is, "That ain't me." Rather than treat "Does a Christian confess his faith" as an axiom like "Do birds fly" we hear it as a challenge, an accusation. Do you think that's how the Lord meant it after assuring you, "You can stop being afraid because you're worth more than many sparrows?"

In this last paragraph Jesus speaks no imperative, gives no commands. In each sentence He describes a situation and the consequences that follow. He says "Whoever confesses in Me before men, I will confess in him before My Father in heaven." Yes, the "in Me" and "in Him" are there in Greek and are important, but only the Amplified Bible notices this. It says, "Confesses Me [out of a state of oneness with Me]." And then, "I will confess [abiding] in him".[1]

Likewise, the other situation and its consequences are described: "Whoever should deny Me before men, I will deny him before My Father in heaven." The first sentence states what will happen: confession in Jesus leads to Jesus confessing in us in heaven. The second sentence presents a case not expected but if it should happen that anyone denies Him before men the result will be Jesus will deny them before God in heaven.

Jesus doesn't say, "Whoever should deny in Me but Me" because no one in Jesus will ever deny Him. Jesus can't deny anyone in whom He Himself is, that is, Jesus can't deny Himself. We don't confess some remote Jesus but always in Him. In Him who clothes us with His Body and Blood in Baptism. In Him who takes our sins on His Body and carries them away from us. In Him who feeds us with His Body and Blood for forgiveness, for life, for salvation. And likewise His confession of us is about Him in us. He points at sinful, fallen people like you and says, "That's Me in that Water on them. That's Me in that Word in their ears. That's Me in the Bread they eat and the Wine they drink." Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:13 that Jesus can't deny Himself. A consequence of Him being in us and us being in Him is confession by both us and Jesus.

By contrast, Jesus says the one He denies is just that guy. That guy over there. The one I'm not in. The one I can't point to and be pointing to Myself. The One who doesn't have Me covering him in Baptism, who doesn't have Me forgiving him in Absolution, who doesn't have My Body and Blood in his body and blood. A consequence of Him not being in a person is that person denying Him and Jesus denying them.

Do Christians confess? Hear it as axiomatic not problematic, as assurance not accusation, as a "duh" not a doubt. Do sparrows fly? Do hairs fall out? As surely as Christians confess they do! Amen.

[1] [1] I'm indebted to the Rev. Rick Sawyer of Jackson, MS for the insights he shared in a June 23, 1999 email regarding the use of "in" here and in the following paragraphs.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (20140713); Matthew 10: 24-33