Matthew 10:28-31 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
This verse bothers me. Is Jesus proclaiming a hierarchy within creation? Everything I believe rebels against the idea that we are the pinnacle of creation. That kind of thinking leads to the devastation of our environment we have seen over the years. It leads us to believe we somehow exist separate from and above the rest of the natural world. We know through science and simple observation that this is not the case. We are intimately connected to the earth as the source of our sustenance and life. So, what do I do with “you are of more value than many sparrows”?
For starters let’s consider the context (always a good idea). The Gospel writer is writing to people who live under Roman occupation and face threats of persecution and oppression. Many are probably subsistence farmers and illiterate peasants. They face real threats of being bodily harm. Otherwise the admonition not to be concerned with those who can kill the body would hold no real weight. So the emphasis on the spiritual aspects of their life that Roman soldiers cannot touch is a comfort. It should also be pointed out that Jesus says the one who can destroy both soul and body should be feared. In many ways our current food system separates us from the land in a way that is both physically and spiritually deadening.
Jesus asks, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” This points out the devaluation of life and animals that were used for ritual sacrifices. Yet even the animals and plants that we turn into commodities, are intimately cared for by God.
That pesky final phrase still troubles me. However, in the context of persecution and oppression it should not be read as a statement of hierarchical ordering within creation. Instead it should be read as it was intended, as a comfort to the afflicted and encouragement to persevere in God’s love as God’s beloved. We don’t have to devalue sparrows or the rest fo creation to affirm God’s love for us.