Knowing the value of “little things” is an essential part of being a Christian.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
In 1618, a young Jesuit from Diest, Belgium, traveled on foot to Rome to study at the famous Roman College. John Berchmans was, in many ways, an unremarkable young religious. The son of a shoemaker, his life was like that of other children of the working classes, but John’s natural intelligence helped him stand out from his peers and he was given an opportunity to study, which ultimately led him to religious life and to preparations for the priesthood.
After distinguishing himself in philosophical studies, John was chosen by his superiors to take part in a public debate, but became ill before it had ended. As the young seminarian lay on his deathbed, he clasped his crucifix, his rosary, and the Jesuit Rule and said: “These are my three treasures; with these I shall gladly die.” The next day, August 13, 1621, he passed on to his eternal reward. He was canonized in 1888 and he is honored as the patron saint of altar servers
At the time of his death, John was only 22 years old and, in the estimation of the world, he didn’t really “do” anything. This is certainly true if we measure his life against the standards of our contemporary culture, which places so much value on grand statements and gestures and on constantly seeking the next “big thing.” John himself seems to recognize how “small” his life was when he remarked, “My penance is to lead an ordinary life.” But we can also glimpse his mature spirit as we hear him urging his fellow Jesuit students to “Prize the little things most of all.”
Knowing the value of “little things” is a beautiful and essential part of the Christian life.
Drawing from the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, this Sunday’s Gospel offers seven verses that form part of a larger passage called the “Mission Discourse.” This chapter presents a variety of teachings loosely woven together as an extended lesson on how to live as disciples of Jesus. Here we are reminded that disciples have the special task of continuing the mission of Jesus in the world (vv. 5-15) and that disciples will experience suffering because of their commitment to Christ (vv. 6-25). Our text this Sunday expands these themes, but also reminds us disciples that our mission is to proclaim what God has done—and continues to do—with courage and conviction (vv. 26-27, 32-33).
In the middle of this passage is a simple reminder of how much God loves little things.
Although it’s easy to hear Jesus’ teachings about God’s care for sparrows and the hairs of our heads as a promise of protection and care, there is another meaning which offers a powerful lesson in discipleship.
When Jesus reminds his listeners that two sparrows can be purchased for a small coin, he was using an example that would have been immediately understood by the people of his time. The word he uses for “small coin” is assarion, which is a Roman copper coin that is worth about 1/16 of a denarius. Keep in mind that a denarius was basically a day’s wage in Jesus’ time. In other words, a denarius is what was necessary to keep a family alive for a day. An assarion would have been the equivalent of taking a denarius (coin) and breaking it into 16 tiny pieces. For one of those tiny slivers of metal, a family could buy not one, but two sparrows, the cheapest meat that could be bought at the market.
The assarion and the two sparrows were so insignificant that most people would have simply dismissed them, if they noticed them at all. And yet, Jesus reminds us that not even something so worthless in the mind of the world escapes God’s notice. The lesson for us is the same one that Saint John Berchmans learned in his own life: We need to value the little things—the small moments of grace, little opportunities for sacrifice, and passing opportunities for kindness—because God’s values them in a way that we can never imagine.
When have “little” things or events in your life held a deeper meaning or significance? How do you express your commitment to follow Jesus in “little” ways? We can be tempted to look for great signs and symbols of God’s grace in the world. How do you see God at work in your life in little ways?
Words of Wisdom: “As we all know, we it is in the little things that joy is best seen and shared: when by taking one small step, we make God’s mercy overflow in situation of desolation; when we decide to pick up the phone and arrange to see someone; when we patiently allow others to take up our time…”—Pope Francis