I know it's obnoxiously expensive, but I splurge. I splurge on bottled water. Yes, I understand that I can purify my own water and fill my own bottle for pennies on the dollar to what I spend on bottled water, but this luxury's convenience makes it worth the money. Granted, I will forgo my pricey bottled water and fill a glass of my own with water when I'm enjoying a leisurely evening supper, but in the morning when I'm racing out the door, the grab and go convenience of bottled water is too alluring for me to pass up.
One of the things which helps assuage my guilt over the price of bottled water is the cases in which I buy it. Most of the time, these cases contain twenty-four bottles. But every once in a while, the manufacturer, in an effort to keep folks like me buying their water, will offer a discount: A twenty-eight pack of water rather than a twenty-four pack for the same price. And just so I am sure to notice this enticing bargain, on the package will be proudly emblazoned: "Buy 24 and get 4 free!"
The promotion of buying one thing and getting something for free is a nearly ubiquitous fixture in our free market society. Hostess does it with its cupcake packages which periodically contain three, rather than the normal two, cupcakes. Old Navy does it with its clothing. If I buy one t-shirt, another awaits me for free. During the low-point of this recession, I even heard a commercial from a car dealer who promised that if you bought one truck, he'd give you another for free! Now that's a bargain!
Although we may think the "buy one, get one free" gimmick is a comparatively recent phenomenon of American capitalism, its origins seem to be much more ancient. In our reading for today from Luke 12, Jesus speaks of the care of his heavenly Father using this analogy: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (verses 6-7). The word which Jesus uses for "pennies" is a Greek form of a Latin loanword: assarion. An assarion was the lowest valued Roman coin, being equal to about half-an-hour's minimum wage. The sparrows which went five for two assaria were the cheapest things sold in the ancient market.
But wait. Something doesn't quite add up here. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus is again teaching on God's care when he uses this same analogy of sparrows, but with a twist: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31). In Matthew, two sparrows are sold for a penny. That means in Luke, four sparrows should be sold for two pennies. But instead, Jesus says that five sparrows are sold for two pennies. It's a cut-rate price for sparrows at the ancient Roman market! Buy four... get one free!
This, then, is the exquisiteness of God's care: Not only does he care for the four sparrows which are valued at an already paltry two for a penny, he even cares for the fifth sparrow which is valued at absolutely nothing. What the world gives away for free is tremendously valued in God's sight.
Perhaps today, you feel somewhat like a fifth sparrow - you feel undervalued if not unvalued. If this is you, take this promise to heart: Jesus cares for and about the fifth sparrow, even when that fifth sparrow is you. Of course, no matter how you might subjectively feel, in objective reality, you are worth much more than any sparrow and even many sparrows, as Jesus himself says: "Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (verse 7). And as the apostle Paul will later write: "You were bought at a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20). And this price was very steep indeed. For it was the price of God's only Son. So take heart! You are valuable in God's sight. Rejoice in your value today.