“Look here! Today I’ve set before you life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong. If you obey the Lord your God’s commandments that I’m commanding you right now by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments, his regulations, and his case laws, then you will live and thrive, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.”
Deuteronomy 30:15, 16 (Common English Bible)
“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10:29-31 (Common English Bible)
Notice, written and performed by country music artist, Thomas Rhett, speaks to one of the deepest longings of our present day: that in a time when loneliness presents one of the greatest challenges affecting the mental and physical well being of adults, people question if there is anyone who is aware of them, who loves them, and maintains a watchful care for them. Simply, is there anyone who “notices” us? The opening canto nails this crippling anxiety, “You say that I don’t hear all the words you’re saying. And it makes you miss me even when you’re with me. Feels like something’s broken.” In 2018, Cigna, a major health insurer in the United States, paid for a national study that found that loneliness has reached epidemic levels in the U.S. and ranks alongside smoking and obesity as a major threat to public health. The lyric is absolutely correct; it feels like something’s broken.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests that the very tone and texture of Deuteronomy is directed not at blind obedience to God, a common impression upon a cursory reading. Rather, to the contrary, this fifth book in the Old Testament canon is a sustained attempt to help people understand why God wants them to behave in a certain manner and make particular life choices. God does notice us and desires our well being; desires all that is good and necessary for us to thrive. God’s ways are presented to the people of Israel not for God’s sake, but for theirs.[i]Jewish law is not the arbitrary will of the Creator but identifies those places in life where the natural consequences of certain behaviors result in injury or death. God desires life for God’s people. So as someone who takes watchful notice of us, God goes before us identifying trouble spots ahead and pointing us around them.
Jesus’ teaching, located here in Matthew’s Gospel, reminds God’s people of God’s notice and concern. Thomas Long writes that what God declares here is that there is nothing that the world can do that is able to destroy God’s loving and watchful care over the faithful.[ii]The world may forbid our witness to God’s love and concern for the world. The world may throw in jail those who ignore the world’s threats. The world can even kill those who serve the gospel. But, observes Tom Long, murderers are not to be ultimately feared. “They may have momentary power over bodily life, but they have no power over the soul.” A God who counts the hairs on our heads and does not fail to note even the falling of a single common sparrow can be trusted to treasure those who “are worth more than many sparrows.” This promise is captured crisply in Thomas Rhett’s lyric, “You think that I don’t notice, but I do.”
Notice is a joyful and hope-filled song that honestly acknowledges those moments when each of us feel unnoticed, “You think that I don’t notice.” What then follows are such small, nuanced observations that, not only prove to the contrary, but must bring unexpected delight, “How you brush your hair out of your green eyes. The way you blush when you drink red wine. The way you smile when you try to bend the truth. You think I don’t notice all the songs you sing underneath your breath. You still tear up at a beach sunset. And you dance just like you’re the only one in the room.” These are not the observations of a causal glance. They come from the notice of one deeply in love. And that is precisely the message of God’s word captured in the Bible, particularly in Deuteronomy and Matthew. I hear God’s voice in the closing lyric: “You think that I don’t notice, but I do. I do, yeah, I do, yeah.”