Jesus said to the twelve, ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.’
Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Today’s reading leads us into strange territory. Thus far, in the tenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has been urging us to be pro-active in the proclamation of the Good News. We have also been urged to model our faith by journeying in a spirit of generous love that is akin to the generosity God has shown us. Then comes today’s reading. Today Jesus is warning us not to harbour any misunderstanding about what it could mean to follow his command to the letter.
We live in a dangerous world where faith in God is not always respected. Indeed, those who travel in faith are often perceived as weak, and are marked out for persecution. In the western world Christians are not likely to be condemned and imprisoned for their faith, but that is not so throughout the world. In many countries Christians are persecuted and even executed just because they espouse the teachings of Jesus Christ. And yet, those Christians have received the same commission to: go, proclaim the good news.
Jesus knew that the Christian journey would not be easy. Jesus knew that he was sending us out like sheep into the midst of wolves. Jesus knew that, whilst remaining steadfast in faith, we should be ready to turn the cunning and wisdom of this world into tools of peace, love and service.
We need to be careful when we engage with today’s reading. Jesus is not giving us carte blanche to be as deceitful and self-centred as those amongst whom we might find ourselves. Jesus is reminding us to travel with our eyes open as we place all of our trust in him. Sometimes we may be tempted to use human guile to defend ourselves. But, such a course of action turns us from sheep into wolves. When we are tempted to behave in this way Jesus reminds us that the right words will be given to us by God’s Holy Spirit, and that we should remain faithful as we await that divine inspiration.
Let us pray for the courage to journey through this life steadfast in our faith. Let us pray that we might never be tempted to stray from Christ’s faithful flock into the ravening pack of Satan’s wolves. Let us pray that we might never be daunted as we go and proclaim the good news.