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"His Eye Is on the Sparrow" - A Scripture Reflection for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Stephen Bevans, SVD | June 25, 2017

"His Eye Is on the Sparrow"
A Scripture Reflection for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 25, 2017: Jer 20:10-13; Ps 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33

I used to be terrified of that line in today’s gospel explaining that “even the hairs on your head are counted.” That line just reinforced my fear of God as always watching me—an “Eye in the Sky,” or like the Christmas song went:

He sees you when you’re sleeping!
He knows when you’re awake!
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!

As I grew older, however, I began to realize that that line was not so much about an “Eye in the Sky” who tracks my every move but a loving Presence who gazes on me with love. I should have paid more attention to the verses right before and right after the “hairs on your head” verse, in which Jesus compares God to a parent who even cares for a tiny bird who has died. Rather than “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” I should think about Civilia Martin’s beautiful gospel song, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”:

I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.1

Our readings today might well be summarized in this phrase: “His eye is on the sparrow,” for in each one we read how God is on the side of the downcast, the despised, the poor, those in trouble, those struggling to make sense of life. God sees us, and cares, and gives us strength by standing with us.

Jeremiah recognizes, in our reading from his book of prophecy, that the powerful and influential people in the Kingdom of Judah are totally against his calls for Israel to repent and recognize their weakness before the Babylonian Empire’s might. He even feels betrayed and trapped by his friends. But he knows, nevertheless, that God’s eye is on him, and while he certainly became discouraged at times during his long prophetic ministry, he never really lost faith: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” Indeed, as the psalm response says in its last verses, “the Lord hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”

The content of the letter to the Romans goes in a different direction, but the message is the same: God never abandons us. There is overwhelming sin in the world, and we could easily despair, easily give up. But despite what seems overpowering and hopeless Paul confidently proclaims that God’s grace through Christ is even more powerful. As he writes a few lines after those we read today, “where sin abounded, grace abounded even more” (Rom 5:20).

It is in the context of these two readings that we read from the gospel of Matthew. Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body—be afraid of those who can kill the spirit, the soul. Know that God is with us—just like God cares about a small, insignificant bird, just as God cares about every one of the hairs on our head, so God sees us and is with us. If we can somehow see that by acknowledging Jesus, Jesus will surely not abandon us.

Many of us have felt God’s eye on us as we go through difficult moments of our lives—loss of loved ones, life-threatening illnesses, doubt about our own worth, guilt over mistakes we have made in relationships, lack of clarity about the direction of our lives. These readings today should help us remember those moments and move us to give thanks and praise. Some of us, though, may not have experienced such powerful presence of being seen, being noticed, being heard. And so these readings are an encouragement to hold on, to take courage, to trust in God’s presence and care in our lives and in our struggles. God may not be able to take our pain away, or fix the wrongs we have done, our give us a magic answers to our search for direction in life. What these readings testify to, though, is that God is indeed there, gazing at us, looking on us with care and love. God’s eye is on the sparrow.

The above image is from the Public Domain.

1See this link for a video of the great Gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, singing this song.

Author information Stephen Bevans, SVD

Steve Bevans is Professor Emeritus at Catholic Theological Union and the Faculty Moderator for Catholics on Call. He is a Roman Catholic priest in the Society of the Divine Word, an international missionary congregation, and served for nine years (1972-1981) as a missionary in the Philippines.

His publications include: Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004, with Roger Schroeder), Evangelization and Freedom (2009, with Jeffrey Gros), and Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009).

He is past president of the American Society of Missiology (2006) and past member of the board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America (2007-2009). In 2009 he was visiting lecturer at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne, Australia, and in 2013 he was the only Catholic to speak at a Plenary at the Tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, Korea.

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