“How Much to Free the Lady?”

woman holding a cage of birdsA few years ago, I was visiting my daughter in Chiang Mai, Thailand. From the hotel window I spotted a local lady carrying what looked like a big wicker basket, filled with smaller closed baskets.

My daughter explained that each little cage contained a sparrow. A Buddhist person could pay 75 cents to set a sparrow free. And this would, in some way, earn Buddhist merit.

A deep sadness washed over me. First, the idea that people on the poor side of the financial scale would waste a much-needed 75 cents—and unaware that it couldn’t possibly buy any actual spiritual merit. But second, it was distressing that the seller was engaged in a completely useless occupation.

I thought of how even the “lowliest” of jobs can be purposeful—if you’re a Christian. Even in a kind of drudgery job, we can be praying for our coworkers, we can talk with them about the Lord, we can share our resources. We can thank the Lord for a job (even though we don’t like it), and we can promise to do a good job (a la Colossians 3:23: “with all [my] heart, as working for the Lord”). We can ask him to teach us whatever it is he wants us to learn from this experience. And on and on and on . . .

I was—in the few seconds it took those thoughts to run through my head—overcome with shame at the times I’ve whined about certain jobs/tasks I’ve had. And I was suddenly thankful that knowing the Lord gives purpose and meaning to everything.

The poor lady selling caged sparrows had no such purpose. Hmm . . . 75 cents to free a sparrow. How much to free the lady?

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