The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 12:1-7....
Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows."
To fear or not to fear . . . that is the question raised by this passage. And it is the first time I have noticed it.
Jesus tells his disciples not to fear those who can kill their bodies, like the Pharisees who might not like their testimony. Rather, Jesus says, fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.
Who is Jesus talking about? Who is Jesus saying we should fear? Well, the only one who can give life and take it, according to the book of Job, is God. The only one who has authority to cast into hell is also God. This is a fearful thought indeed if we stop here. The fearfulness is mitigated a bit if we realize that Jesus is saying we ought to feel awe in the presence of God. OK.
But don't miss what Jesus says next. After we have heard the next to the last word, the bad news of fear, we must listen for the last word, which is love.
Jesus goes on to draw his listeners attention to some sparrows that may have been within their line of vision, birds that were sold, strung together, in the marketplace. These sparrows did not cost much by human reckoning. Yet, Jesus says, not one of them is forgotten in God's sight.
Is that not amazing?! God knows about every little sparrow that falls to the ground. That's encouraging.
But even more encouraging is this thought.... Jesus turns his listeners attention to their own heads.... even the hairs of your head are all counted.
Do you know how many hairs you have? Of course, some of us have more and some less, maybe a lot less the older we get! But the average human head has about 100,000 hair follicles. God not only knows that fact, which is now known to us, but he also knows exactly how many hairs are on your head.
What is Jesus' point? His point is that God values you! And what should our response be to that? "Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows."
Awareness of God often leads to fear at first because we realize how small and how sinful we are in comparison to him. But then when we recognize, through Jesus, how much God values us, so much so that he gave his Son to die for us, then we will know that we do not have to be afraid of God.
As it says in 1 John 4:18, "perfect love casts out fear". And that is the kind of love God has for you and me . . . perfect!