In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
Ring out your joy to the Lord, O you just;
for praise is fitting for loyal hearts.
Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp,
with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs. (R./)
For the word of the Lord is faithful
and all his works to be trusted.
The Lord loves justice and right
and fills the earth with his love. (R./)
They are happy, whose God is the Lord,
the people he has chosen as his own.
From the heavens the Lord looks forth,
he sees all the children of men. (R./)
Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he 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.
At our personal centre is an inner dignity that surpasses any good works we do and puts us at ease before God, already enjoying his gift of peace. That's how today's reading from Ephesians sees us, as having received something like a "down payment" or "first instalment" of eternal life, just as a pregnant woman already possesses new life, unborn, within her. She has the assurance, but must wait for the birth. She holds the future child, but is still guessing what it will be like. In Ephesians we are said to be "sealed with the Holy Spirit," the pledge of our inheritance. Paul can offer no logical explanation for the gift, except that we were "chosen, predestined" by our loving God. We were loved before we loved in return, we were carefully chosen to be God's very own people. Our life is meant to be lived in praise to God's glory. If our entire life and its growth and fulfilment are due entirely to God, how free and uninhibited we can be.
The exuberance and liberty of spirit is also in today's gospel. What was said in the dark we are to proclaim from rooftops. If our merciful God is concerned about sparrows and the small details of creation, then we need fear nothing. "You are more precious than a whole flock of sparrows." Justification by faith in this God liberates us more than from the law. It makes us free, confident and already part-way to heaven.
The ending of today's gospel makes a key statement about God. The sparrow was the smallest bird of Jesus' time and place and it was the cheapest bird to purchase in the market place. Yet, Jesus declares that not one sparrow is forgotten in God's sight. God is someone aware of even the smallest and least significant of nature's creatures. Jesus' real focus, however, is not so much on sparrows but on his disciples, men and women like you and me. He argues that if the humble sparrow is known to God and cared for by God, how much more are we known to and cared for by God, as we are each worth more than hundreds of sparrows.
God is concerned with the details of his creation, and with the details of our lives. On the one hand God is transcendent, and deserves reverence and awe, or what the gospel refers to as 'the fear of God.' 'Fear him who has the power to cast into hell.' Yet, on the other hand, Jesus assures us that God is Abba-Father profoundly close to us and caring for the details of our lives. If that is so, we can bring our lives to God with childlike trust. We can trust ourselves to God knowing we will be received as treasured and full of worth.