Mahalia Jackson, one of the most extraordinary singers of hymns ever, would often sing the beautiful composition called “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” It’s based on Mt 10:28 -33 where the evangelist recounts the words of Jesus when he tells the crowds how precious each of them is to the Father. Paraphrasing, He says: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? You are worth more than many sparrows.” (Hear Mahalia sing it here.)
What made me think of that hymn was today’s gospel where Mark describes the crowds that Jesus spoke to as so great, and their needs so pressing that Jesus could not find a moment in his own home to sit down for dinner. His uncles and aunts, cousins and neighbors were so worried that they came to rescue him from the unrelenting demands of the crowds. Mark says that they thought he was out of his mind because he was not caring for himself.
Jesus speaking, teaching and curing made each individual feel noticed, cared about. To Our Lord, there was no crowd but only men and women who came to Him. His notice of each person, reminded me of the sparrow comparison of Jesus: “Not one of them falls to the ground without the Father knowing about it.”
In preparing the homily for today, to illustrate my point, I was going to sing a verse or two of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” but then I thought better about it. The homily is no time to show off that I know a song and that I can sing it. The homily is supposed to make the gospel live again within the lives of the hearers.
Don’t sing it, I said to myself as I walked to the ambo. Just speak the words of the song. So I did and ended with something like this:
“You may feel that you are only one of a crowd at Mass this morning. Not true. Our Lord knows every sparrow in our world by name and guides each of their lives. He sees you and knows you and loves you, too. You are worth more than many sparrows.
Mahalia ends her song with the refrain: “I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the sparrow and I know he’s watching me… His eye is on the sparrow and I know he’s watching me.’
As I walking through the foyer after Mass, the maintenance man stopped me and said, ” You won’t believe this! There is a dead sparrow just outside the church door. Sure enough lying on the beautiful white snow that had fallen overnight was a house sparrow. I think of sparrows as dusky-looking birds but this one was a male that looked like he might just have fallen from the sky. His colors were perfect.
And, he was noticed.