Fear and Trust: choosing

30 Even all the hairs of your head are counted.31So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Somethings are impossible to count: the stars in the heavens, the grains of sand on the shore, and the hairs on your head (baldness aside!) The impossibility of counting the hairs of the head is proverbial (Ps 40:12; 69:4), but even the impossible is not impossible to God who made them. The Creator’s intimate knowledge of those he has made is expressed movingly in other imagery in Ps 139:1–18. Equally proverbial is the saying “not a hair of his head will fall to the ground” to express a person’s total security (1 Sam 14:45; 2 Sam 14:11; 1 Kgs 1:52; cf Dan 3:27, Luke 21:18; Acts 27:34.22) The Father who knows the number of each disciple’s hairs will make sure none of them are lost.

As we learned in v.29, the small sparrow matters to the Creator, and so (for the third time) the disciples are told not to be afraid. All of God’s creatures are important to Him, none more so that humanity.

32 Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.33 But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” 

There is the old expression, “fish or cut bait.” One has to choose to move forward and take action (fish) or simply be back on shore “cutting bait.” So too, the question of priorities – who to fear – is asking a radical loyalty and fidelity to Jesus.

The previous mention of judgment before God gives added urgency to the choice: short-term advantage of preserving human approval and the humanly risky but ultimately sound course of maintaining a prior loyalty to Jesus in the face of human opposition. The issue is not merely obedience to Jesus’ teaching, but the explicit “acknowledgement” of him as Lord before a hostile world. The demand is for faithful witness to Jesus even when it means suffering in Jesus’ name.

It is not without basis that one suggest that Jesus’ verdict will be on a reciprocal basis: acknowledgement or denial depending on whether they have acknowledged or denied him. The later experience of Peter (26:69–75) is an object-lesson in denying Jesus under the pressure of public opinion, but Peter’s subsequent rehabilitation adds a reassuring suggestion that the stark verdict of this saying may be understood to refer to a settled course of acknowledgment or denial rather than to every temporary lapse under pressure. (France, 406)


  • Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew” in New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 8. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 260-261.
  • R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007) 401-406
  • Daniel J. Harrington, “Matthew” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, ed. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1989) 876-78
  • Scripture – New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970

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