“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
– Matthew 10:26-31
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 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 12:4-7
“One penny would buy you two sparrows. Two pennies, however, would buy you five. The seller threw in the fifth for free.
“Society still has its share of fifth sparrows: indistinct souls who feel dispensable, disposable, worth less than a penny. They drive carpools and work in cubicles. Some sleep beneath cardboard on the sidewalks and others beneath comforters in the suburbs. What they share is a feeling of smallness.”
– Max Lucado, Fearless
There were a bunch of ‘fifths’ when I was growing up. Pleading the fifth means invoking the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution which states that you cannot be compelled to say something that might incriminate you. Until liquor bottles became metric, you might be invited to share a fifth, that is, a bottle of whiskey which came in one fifth of a gallon bottles. (I never accepted. I grew up in a dry state and a dry county once alcohol became legal in neighboring counties. I try my best not to break the law.) A fifth wheel is a truck with a special hitch to pull a heavy trailer.
Yet, automobiles used to have five wheels, four on the car’s axles, and the fifth wheel in the trunk – the spare tire, but note that the tire is mounted on a fifth wheel. (These days many cars have only an air pump, requiring you to be towed if your tire is shredded or slashed.) When you had your old car for a long time, you might go many years without a flat. Maybe one day you notice a flat. You look in the trunk, usually beneath a pressed board panel. Your heart skips a beat, because for years you had forgotten the spare. Was it properly inflated? Had it dry rotted? Yes, you worried whether the spare was forgotten and rotten.
But fifth sparrows? I like Max Lucado’s style here. He takes the two prices, one from Matthew, one from Luke, both dealing with fear, both dealing with the price of sparrows.
We see this kind of pricing today. One of my wife’s favorite stories to tell on me was my cherry purchase on the eastern bank of Flathead Lake in Montana. We were on our grandest vacation of our lives. It is terrible to say such a statement when we’ve been married over 40 years and on this trip, we had been married only four months. We had honeymooned at Walt Disney World for a couple of days, but this was a proper honeymoon. We went from Port Neches, Texas to the eastern side of the Rockies, then up to Jasper National Park in Alberta. We crossed over the Continental Divide at Yoho National Park, bringing us into British Columbia. We then drove to the Grand Canyon. From there we went to San Antonio, where we met her family for the Texas Folklife Festival. After four days of her singing on stage, we returned to Port Neches, two weeks and roughly 9,000 miles.
So, for the cherry purchase… We had been to Yellowstone the day before. We were on our way to Glacier National Park and into Canada, but when my wife saw the sign for fresh cherries, we had to stop. She ate a few samples and returned to the car. She said, “Get us a few pounds.” She meant 1-3 pounds, but she was not specific. I asked the farmer what his price was. He gave a price for one pound and ten pounds. I could easily eat a pound with no problem. My mathematical mind had no trouble in figuring out that the price of roughly three pounds of cherries got you a container full of ten pounds of cherries. So, I bought the ten-pound basket – for two people on a wild road trip.
I learned something that day. My wife does not like repeating meals or snacks. She likes variety. After a couple of days, I was the only one eating cherries. Then I forgot about them when there was about 3-4 pounds left. We passed by a fruit fly inspection road block in Arizona, north of the Grand Canyon. We denied having any fresh fruit and the inspector did not look that hard at our pile of souvenirs. But that got us to thinking. That night we had the drive of our lives. We went to Gallop, NM to find a hotel room, not knowing that the National High School Rodeo was being competed at Gallup that week. We finally found a room available on the east side of Albuquerque at about 2:00 in the morning. When we unpacked the car, we discovered two things. Our cans of soft drinks had almost exploded in the desert heat and our forgotten cherries, repackaged in a sealed container, were now cherry wine. We threw it all down the drain.
The cherries were forgotten. They were rotten. They were discarded.
Lucado talks of people who are forgotten, feeling rotten, and in one way or another, discarded. His second example hit home with me, hard.
I am an introvert. I work best when I am alone. When I am with others, a lot of my energy is wasted, trying to balance social issues, distractions, and such, with real work. But in almost every company where I worked, I shared an office with someone else, even when I was a manager. Then, with my last employer, I was the only manager that was relegated to a cubicle. The excuse was given that there were no offices available. Then my boss left the company and the company combined two groups together, my group and another, one that had a boss already. He kept me in a cubicle, even though there were walled offices available. He wanted to impress upper management that he could save money. Upper management knew what those worked for him knew; he was cheap. The odd thing is that everyone in the company managed to have a windowed cubicle at one time or another or a cubicle with two solid walls – both status symbols. I never got either – one solid wall, but not two. What is worse is that I often had the cubicle next to the coffee center. I do not drink coffee. The area near the coffee center is the noisiest in the entire building. And each day, a boss from a walled office would come and take all but a little coffee in the pot. Within an hour, the coffee would burn – oh, what a stench. The coffee drinkers could care less. So, I emptied the coffee pot and cleaned it, and I turned off the warmer.
Don’t get me wrong. Being the forgotten and rotten has its benefits, as long as the paycheck keeps coming in. And occasionally, my pay raises were half a percent above the company average for that year – mostly because my projects always made a profit and none of the managers in offices could say that. Once, my raise was an entire percent above the company average, but that was when I doubled up as the Training Manager and Safety Manager – two full-time management jobs for only a one percent raise. I felt I was building job security and gaining marketable skills. When you are forgotten and rotten, you develop a knack for seeing silver linings, even when there are none.
It is odd that Lucado equates carpool driving and cubicle working to sleeping on the sidewalk. Really? But his point is ‘smallness’. I have done the first two and both carry a certain amount of smallness in them. I have never done the third, but I am sure those people feel forgotten and rotten and small.
What we need to remind ourselves is what Jesus says in Luke 12:7. We are worth more than many sparrows. We are not worthless. We are not a fifth sparrow that is thrown in for free. We are not a fifth wheel (the spare tire) that is ignored until times are bad. We are not even forgotten and rotten. If you are a true believer, you are God’s chosen one.
Think about that. As God said to Jeremiah, He knew Jeremiah at the dawn of time. He set this cosmic dance in motion so that we could be His. We do not deserve it, but He chose us, each of us individually. And then, He died for us. What greater Love than this…
You are loved. Do you feel loved? Sometimes when you are forgotten and your cubicle is far from the nearest wall or window, you may not feel loved. Grab ahold of God’s promises with all your strength, and never let go. Know that you are loved.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.