Consider the birds of the air. Specifically, consider the sparrow. A person can learn as much from a bird such as this as they can from any other element of Creation. Maybe that’s why Jesus drew the eyes of the people to the birds of the air—he knew they were some of the best teachers, and they spoke to the literate and the illiterate, the rich and the poor.
The sparrow is the ultimate example of a worldly creature. Not worldly in our peculiar Christian dialect, but worldly in the fundamental sense. The sparrow is worldly in that it lives, breathes, and dies wholly dependent on the divine World-Maker. We should take note; we should be more worldly.
Saint Francis was perhaps one of the worldliest men to ever walk the earth. He owned a brown, rough-spun cloak that he was quick to give away. He allowed himself the luxury of canvas shoes when his feet became too old to walk the ground uncovered. He talked to animals. To make a remarkable biography short, Saint Francis lived in the world as the perfect houseguest. He enjoyed creation, and created things. He was worldly, not in that he acted as other men did, but in that he sought to reconcile God and our fallen world, without seeking to shackle himself to it.
We so often dream and speak of Heaven that we forget that our eternity will be spent in a new earth that God makes for us. Our bodies will be resurrected and our world will be redeemed. We will be—in a perfect and whole sense—worldly. The world may be broken, but the sparrow is held by its Creator. Even in death, the sparrow is courageous; he knows no other hand but the hand of the Father, and rests in His providence.
People who amass money and fast cars and houses with private butlers aren’t necessarily bad people, but they certainly don’t deserve the title of worldly. They aren’t interacting with the world well; if anything, they should be pitied as fearful. They haven’t learned to rely on the world and the God sustaining it; instead, they try to protect themselves from it. The wind-whipped sparrow tucked in its nest is worldly. A man in his mansion is hiding—hiding from the sparrow, for the sparrow reminds him that his mansion is nothing more than a gilded nest of sticks.
Consider the sparrow—that wholly dependent being. If God should choose to feed it, God will feed it. When the wind picks up, and trees are shaken, it can do nothing but trust and carry on. And when it drops to the ground, never to rise again, Christ himself kneels down to carry it away. Where man lies to himself, the sparrow is honest. Where man is frail, the sparrow is strong. Man is rich. The sparrow is free.
Being poor isn’t fun, or so the old phrase goes; yet is it wrong? Folks who toss this expression around seem to hold that life is intended to be comfortable and fun. This is a dangerous stance to take; as C.S. Lewis wrote, “If everything seems to come simply by signing cheques, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God.” Putting our very souls in the hands of a street preacher isn’t fun or safe; regardless, it is life to the fullest. In many ways, we should envy the sparrow, which through its very nature is made dependent on God. All things are permissible to the sparrow, while we are so often owned by the world, unable to flit about on the breeze because we are too tied to the ground. Saint Francis preached to the birds—and the birds listened. The birds preach to us, and we so often go away sad, and take our seat at the bar with the rich, young ruler.
This does not imply a life of foolish neglect, for even a sparrow builds its nest and gathers food. Even a sparrow knows to take care of its young. When Jesus calls his listeners to consider the birds of the air, he is not calling them to a life of carelessness, but to a life of trust—in many ways, the blind trust of a sparrow. The sparrow doesn’t worry, doesn’t store up food in barns; instead, it trusts its Creator for its next meal—for its next breath. It has no other choice.
Remember the old saying: God takes care of fools and little children. It seems fitting to add sparrows to that list—those birds who are so foolish as to dance through life, flitting from heavenly perch to heavenly perch—perfectly worldly beings.