“Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matt. 10:26-33.
In the 1962 musical farce “Little Me,” with comedian Sid Caesar, there was a love song which had as its title: “I’ve Got Your Number.” The lyrics by Carolyn Lee continued: “I’ve got your number, I know you inside/out.” The song has become an American standard and recorded by Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee and more recently Tom Wopat.
The title refers, of course, to one person saying: “I’ve figured you out.” Or, “I’ll connect with you, give you a call on the telephone. Maybe there’s time for a date?”
In our computerized and highly digitized world, “I’ve got your number” may have a very different ring or meaning.” Namely, your number could be your algorithm identity.
Today, every time you’re on the computer or go to a website, these devices calculate your precise pattern, whereby your choices are traced and often sold to advertisers or corporations.
For example, recently I sent flowers to a New Jersey relative of mine who had lost her son. I used a florist on the Internet, “Flowers.com.” As a result, my email and web browser were flooded with emails and advertisements fully aware that as a potential customer, I send plants and floral arrangements to the bereaved. In other words, “they have my number!” Try scheduling a trip to San Diego, and you will be pursued on the internet by Marriott, Hertz, and an array of sites, eager to make an online deal. “They have your number!”
Of course, we are more than numbers. Today’s gospel tells us that even “all the hairs of our head are counted” by an all-seeing God.
Most of all, each of us is of infinite value before God. Like the sparrows who land on the ground, only to take off into the sky, God’s vast oversight for his creation sees sparrows and watches over them.
In a metaphoric way, the gospel that Jesus proclaims is grounded on the belief that no one is unworthy of God’s love. In God’s eye, every human being is of infinite value, without exception.
And indeed, we are of more value than many sparrows.
In Matthew’s gospel, we read about the commissioning of Jesus’s early disciples and apostles. And of course, this calling came with some misgivings. Don’t we all have second thoughts when we’re about to enter a new stage in life or confronted by a difficult and possibly unforeseen task? Again, we must call upon God’s oversight.
It’s at these times we are to be bold. The gospel writers and most recently Pope Francis use the term “parrhesia,” meaning “bold speech.” In more modern terms, it can mean a form of activism for the sake of the gospel. Or better yet, we may wish to use the phrase “apostolic or religious zeal.”
How deep is your trust in God’s care and oversight in your life?
Let me give a brief example and three short prayers asking for God to look in on us, and come to our rescue.
When I listen to Matthew’s gospel, these sentiments ask us to trust in him, so much so that we may have greater serenity despite uncertainty, confusion or upset.
I’m reminded of an incident in my own ministry, where I went to see a friend dying of cancer. It was a very difficult encounter; my friend was in great pain, and could barely talk.
I wanted to end the brief conversation with a prayer, so I said to him: “We can always pray for a miracle.”
My friend, in tune with today’s gospel, made the wise response: “Mike, you can pray for a miracle, but I’m praying for serenity.”
In our catalog of prayers, there are many prayers that people hold dear.
Let me share these short prayers:
The first and most popular of these is Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer,” which has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, and those who suffer the effects of substance abuse.
“God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.” (1934)
Here’s another “serenity prayer,” and it comes for Saint Teresa of Avila who in the 16th century wrote:
“Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing. God never changes.
Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.”
Today’s gospel focuses on trust in the Lord, as we embark on our religious and apostolic work, such efforts are demanding and most personally challenging.
Here’s the final “serenity prayer” coming from Saint Francis of Assisi, when kneeling before the great crucifix, even now venerated in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, and prayed:
Most high, glorious God,
cast your light into the darkness
of my heart.
Give me, Lord, right faith,
and profound humility,
with wisdom and perception,
so that I may carry out what is truly your holy will.
Now for most of us, this prayer would end there, but in the case of Saint Francis, according to legend, the figure on the crucifix, responded and spoke these words to Francis:
“Go Francis, and repair my house which as you see, is falling into ruin.”
Today’s Gospel is a reminder that we who are so valued by God, also have a task of repairing, and even reviving our lives as God comes to our rescue, for the sake of this gospel of love.