Let’s talk about the economics of grace – Sparrow Economics 101. Jesus said—
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows (Matt. 10:29-30).
Luke quotes Jesus differently–
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 (Luke 12:6-7).
If you compare the texts, you will note that sparrows were sold two-for-a penny, but if one bought four sparrows for two pennies an extra sparrow was thrown into the deal–a “write-off” sparrow, so to speak, that was not valued by the seller at even half-a-penny.
Imagine the ad: “Buy four sparrows and get one free.” The child pulls at the sleeve of the parent, “We get a free sparrow if we buy two pair.”
“Quiet! We’d have to buy a cage and who’s going to feed and clean up after them. Besides, that’s the way they get rid of sick or hurt birds.”
It is one thing to be discounted. It is quite another to be completely written off. This leads me to a story.
A law partner told me, “There’s a young woman I’d like you to speak with about a problem. Her name is Caitlin. She is the daughter of Bruce Barker from his first marriage. She has a sexual harassment complaint. Maybe you can help her.”
Barker was a contractor and a big client of the firm. My partner had represented him in his divorce. The final judgment stipulated that Barker didn’t have to pay child support for one day beyond Caitlin’s eighteenth birthday.
Now, Barker’s idea of helping his daughter was to give her the name of his attorneys, but he wouldn’t pay her legal bill.
I called Caitlin. Her story tumbled out over the phone. She was 19 and in her first job as a receptionist at the manager’s office of a large apartment complex. The owner’s step-son was the manager. He was in his thirties. He took liberties with the young women who worked in the office with explicit late night phone calls and physical advances.
After a particularly bad and shocking episode one afternoon, Caitlin left work and wrote a letter to the owner complaining about the harassment. The owner requested a meeting with her.
“You need an attorney,” I said, “but you can’t afford me, but if you can pay me two hundred dollars, I’ll represent you at the meeting and through the process at the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.” That wasn’t even close to the rate for one hour of my time, but I’ve learned from experience that a client who pays something takes the representation and the case more seriously.
I met Caitlin for the first time at an informal employer-employee conference. We agreed to meet with the apartment owner to try to come to a satisfactory resolution.
The owner was a rude, arrogant man. His office was piled high with copies of apartment rental guides. There were maps on the walls of areas of known gang activity near his properties. His medical degree was on prominent display.
I got the picture. He was a physician who found investing in apartment houses in low-income areas to be more lucrative than medical practice. He exhibited the tough heartlessness of an experienced slum lord.
For an hour, the owner blustered and grilled Caitlin about her story and complaint. He picked on her responses. Why hadn’t she sent her letter of complaint to him certified as called for in the employee handbook? Wasn’t she really “interested” in Karl, his step-son who was the accused offender? Why didn’t she complain the first time Karl did something she thought was objectionable? Why had she left work without seeking permission?
Like his step-son, the owner seemed to think that Caitlin was an object to be used. He responded to my interjections and arguments with icy silence. His comments to me demonstrated an acidulous contempt for attorneys in general and me in particular. My presence didn’t mitigate his arrogant bullying a bit. His other employees present smiled at his zingers.
I knew his type and refused the bait. He’d been threatened and sued a lot by lawyers. Someday he and I were destined to meet in a courtroom where the rules would be enforced and the tables would be turned. Only when his wallet was truly endangered would he come around.
To my pleased surprise, Caitlin kept her cool throughout the entire session. She answered every question forthrightly with an even voice. She possessed a rare and true calm, the kind of demeanor that could lead an army into battle or a corporation through a crisis. She was taking a battering to her psyche, but she wasn’t flinching or backing down.
We left with the owner’s snarky benediction: “Don’t expect a settlement since I’d much rather spend my money on my attorneys than give your client a dime.”
On the sidewalk outside, I noticed Caitlin trembling and her eyes tearing up. “Listen,” I said, “I can deal with this guy, but are you OK?”
“I think so, but I need another job and I don’t know what I am going to do.”
“Start looking for work,” I told her, “and I’ll work on the legal issues.”
As she started to get in to her car, the Holy Spirit moved me to call out “Caitlin.”
I walked over to her. “You did great in there. You can go home and tell your mother that you have grace and poise. She’ll know what I mean. But I have to ask you, what were you doing in a crummy job like that? You can do much better. Why aren’t you in college?”
She was startled. She looked down at the cement and ground her heel into it in a circular motion. “I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t have the money and I didn’t know what to courses to take, so I gave up”
I said, “College would give you real choices and opportunities. You handled yourself in there with courage and good sense. Businesses will pay money for talent like yours, but you need a college degree. I represent the local community college. Would you mind if I arranged an appointment with a counselor there for some vocational interest testing and some advice.”
“You would do that for me?”she said with surprise.
“Sure. I believe that you can really go some place with your life if you’re pointed in the right direction. I’m just offering the compass. Do you want to check out your options?”
I sent a letter to the apartment owner proposing some back salary and a clean letter of recommendation in settlement. I laid out Caitlin’s case with the corroborating testimony of a co-worker, copies of notes the step-son had written to Caitlin, and telephone records.
The owner refused our offer with disdain.
The owner opposed Caitlin’s unemployment claim and appealed when she won. I appeared for her at the appeal hearing and cross-examined the step-son. He denied that he had committed harassment, but admitted that he had been disciplined by his step-father for what had happened. I made much of this contradiction in my closing statement.
When we walked outside afterwards, Caitlin’s mother, who was dying of breast cancer, had come to the hearing to support Caitlin. She asked me, “Mr. Hansen, why are you helping Caitlin like this? You know that we can’t afford this.”
“Caitlin needs the help,” I said, “and I am in a position to give it. My parents and my faith have taught me that if I see someone who needs help and I can give it, I would be wrong to turn my back.”
My friend Ginny, an administrator at the college, interviewed Caitlin the next week and arranged follow-up testing and advisement. Ginny confirmed my opinion that this was a young woman worthy of support.
Caitlin won the appeal, but the owner was wealthy and use to getting his way. He filed suit in superior court using a large Los Angeles law firm to try to overturn the award of unemployment benefits. It was like he was trying to shoot a gnat with an elephant gun. He also blacklisted Caitlin among the network of large apartment owners so she couldn’t get another job in the one field where she had experience.
I refused to give up the case even though it meant working for free against a well-funded legal effort. I filed a cross-complaint for damages for sexual harassment. On and on the battle raged.
Finally, the owner proposed settlement after his attorney failed to knock out Caitlin’s cross-complaint on procedural grounds and we were headed for trial. His attorneys prevailed on him to cut his losses. Caitlin received much more than I had originally proposed in settlement. I also received some attorney’s fees and the court costs.
Caitlin sent me a note. “Mr. Hansen, I want to thank you. No one ever believed in me like you have. I’ve decided to become a teacher. I’m starting college next fall.” She went on to pursue her dream.
Was Caitlin a “write-off” two-for-a penny sparrow? She was a daughter in a broken home. She was a bright, young woman with little parental encouragement. She was just getting by in a dead-end, low-pay job as a single woman working for men who had no respect for women. I wish that she were an exception, but this is a world of many such sparrows.
We miss the point if we relegate Jesus’ comments about sparrows to the field of ornithology. The context of Jesus’ observations was the persecution, defamation and rejection of his followers (Matt. 10:16-31).
We perpetuate injustice if we spiritualize the remarks into a generic platitude about God’s care for his children and do not inquire further into who might be the fallen or written-off sparrows in our midst. The Apostle James, the brother of Jesus, wrote: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘ Go in peace, eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?…Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin” (James 2:15-16 and 4:17).
God watches every sparrow and counts the hairs on the heads of all his children. He tells his wounded and shamed ones that he will never forget them. He also keeps track of those who turn their backs on the oppressed and rejected.
Solomon wrote of God’s expectation for the strong to defend the vulnerable and oppressed–
If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength being small;
if you hold back from
rescuing those taken away to death,
those who go staggering to
if you say, “Look, we did not
Does not He who keeps
watch over your soul
And will he not repay all
according to their
deeds? (Prov 24:10-12)
It takes love in action to redeem “write-off” sparrows. It can mean touching lepers, speaking peace to the angry and violent, conversing with the morally disreputable, not withdrawing from fellowship with persons of different backgrounds, culture and economic status, inviting the scruffy to dinner, but demanding nothing from any of them in return. The economics of the kingdom of God are the economics of grace and in grace there are no write-offs for damaged goods. The love of the Father dignifies the child.
And even if no human can be found to come to your defense and extend you this grace–if your ex-spouse says “I don’t love you anymore.” your parents announce “you’re a disgrace unworthy of our time and attention,” your congregation deems you a moral leper and denies you fellowship, your boss tells you “I can get lots of sparrows at a half-penny a bird, you have no value to me”– remember that your Father in heaven says, “You’re fall has not escaped my notice. I know every detail and I love you still. Why if you were the only sparrow out there, I would come for you. My grace is sufficient for you. Trust your broken wing to me for healing.
Is this too much to believe? Hardly! It’s the first and last lesson of basic “Sparrow Economics 101” taught by Jesus Christ.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.