Scripture: Matthew 10:16-23
Key verse: (16) “See I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Reflection: Today’s reading is found amid Jesus’ commissioning of the apostles. Our key verse for the day invokes quite a menagerie — sheep, wolves, serpents and doves. The apostles, and by extension disciples through the ages represent three out of four of these animals: sheep, serpents and doves. The powers of the world are the wolves.
In the early church, these words needed little interpretation. They faced the fangs of the wolves every day because of their Christian identity. They were arrested, beaten, tortured, even martyred for the faith. They had little problem understanding Christ’s call to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, because that was the key to their survival.
This is an alien world for us. While Christians are being actively persecuted in some countries, here in Charlotte this is not our reality. Our world does not persecute us. For the most part, we are viewed with indifference. Younger generations see us as a product of a bygone era. We are met not with violent resistance, but with yawns. Discipleship these days feels less like sheep amidst wolves and more like people amidst cats. We are simply ignored. Along the political trail, some candidates are suggesting doing away with tax-exempt status for religious organizations. This is not persecution, it’s a loss of privilege, more like the dog getting kicked out of the bed. That’s very different from being sheep amidst wolves.
Within recent American history, there has been a movement in the church that knew the realities of this text. Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement invoked this passage on many occasions. As they faced police dogs and fire hoses, they knew what it was to be sheep amid the wolves. And the pastors who led that movement often spoke of being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” In a sermon on this passage, Martin Luther King transformed Jesus’ injunction into a call for “tough minds and tender hearts.” Tough minds are not gullible. They are willing to think critically and dive deeply into the wisdom of God as it relates to the ways of the world. Tender hearts are willing to love even enemies. King said, “It is tough minded enough to resist evil. It is tender hearted to resist with love. It avoids the complacency and the ‘do-nothing-ism’ of the soft minded and the violence and bitterness of the hard hearted.” (For notes on the full sermon go here. )
How does our faith call us to be sheep amidst the wolves? What might it mean for us to pursue a faith that is tough minded and tender hearted, wise as serpents, innocent as doves. May we consider this question in our walk with Christ today, wherever he may lead us.
Prayer: Guide us this day, O Lord. Take us where we need to go. Show us what we need to see. Call us to what needs to be done. Give us the courage to follow, even into the midst of the wolves. Grant us wisdom, protect our innocence, that we might be your tough minded and tenderhearted servants. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].