Everyone has them—Adults of all ages, teens, children, infants, males and females. Single people, married people, divorced people, and people who have lost a spouse. Healthy people, sick people, poor people, middle class people, and rich people have them. Good people, indifferent people, and evil people have them. If we are alive, we all have struggles.
Since the beginning of time, people have sung to survive their struggles. Many of the psalms were born out of struggle. Songs sung by African and Caribbean slaves spoke of their struggles for freedom and survival. Songs of the Civil War, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, World Wars I and II, and the Viet Nam War describe human struggles with all its disappointments and with all its fears.
When you ask a modern psychologist, he or she is likely to describe three ways people often cope with their personal hardships. First, people deny that they have any problems. They might even be offended that you imply that they do. They might consider your concerned inquiry into their life an intrusion—you’re a busy body—mind your own business! Second, people might express appreciation for your concern while minimizing their difficulties. They might even indicate that something breaking their heart is no more than a minor irritation that bothers them only once in a while. Third, people might throw themselves a pity party at your expense. They might exaggerate their battles. They might do all they can do to make you feel sorry for them.
In today’s first reading, the Prophet Jeremiah openly complains to God that he was called to be a prophet at a chaotic time in the Hebrew people’s history. Jeremiah’s complaint to God comes after a high ranking temple priest has him beaten with rods and put into the stocks for prophesying that Jerusalem would be captured by the Babylonians.
The passage we heard is an example of one of Jeremiah’s most intense outcries to God. Jeremiah is willing to leave vengeance to God, but he wants to see it take place immediately for his own self satisfaction. At the end of today’s passage, Jeremiah’s heart has undergone a change. Instead of demanding vengeance, he praises God for rescuing the poor from the power of the wicked. Jeremiah sees himself as one of God’s poor ones. What a change of heart! Anger is replaced with gratitude when Jeremiah realizes that God has not abandoned him.
In today’s gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples to proclaim from the housetops the good news he has shared with them and not to be afraid when what they proclaim will result in different conflicts. To do this he shows his concern for their wellbeing by using an analogy about sparrows.
During Jesus’ life, two sparrows sold for one assarion which is about a quarter penny in our United States currency. But if a buyer was prepared to spend two assarion he or she would receive not four sparrows but five sparrows. The extra sparrow was thrown into the sale as if it had no value at all. But God cares even for sparrows that human beings see as worthless.
Jesus goes even further with the analogy describing that God knows when every sparrow falls to the ground. Unfortunately most biblical translations make it sound like God knows when each and every sparrow falls to the ground and dies. But a better translation describes that God takes notice each time a sparrow hops up and down on the ground. When you watch any small bird you soon see that none of them walk placing one foot in front of the other. They all hop to get around. Because this happens innumerable times in the life of a sparrow, God’s care and support for us is even greater than we first understand. So with God’s love and support we have the help we need to hop over any and all struggles in our own lives.
We, like Jeremiah and the disciples, all have struggles. How do we see them? Are we victims of circumstances and the poor choices of other people? Are we victims of our local or national government or our church? Are we victims of unjust laws, economic downturns, or failing health? Are we victims of our own habits, traditions, and beliefs? We probably can answer “yes” to some or to all of these questions. But no matter how we answer them, today’s readings encourage us not to be afraid because God loves us more than we think.
Fr. Bob Kelly