20th March 2024

It’s only Matthew who records Jesus’ words about the need to be ‘wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matt 10:16). Spoken in a context of mission, Jesus warns his disciples of the possible hardships and persecutions they might encounter in their witnessing to him; ‘see, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.’

It’s interesting, perhaps even shocking, that he commends a creature known to have been trouble from the very beginning; ‘now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made’ (Gen 3:1) – and we all know what happened next! Of course, it’s not the serpent’s supposed cunning and tendency towards deceitfulness that we’re told to emulate, but rather its reputation for being nobody’s fool – ever aware, utterly street-wise.

Doves, by contrast, are prized for their attractiveness as they dance and coo together, but here Jesus is commending their ‘innocence’, their lack of guile. Some would see that as dangerous naivety in a world like ours, trusting to good looks and being a threat to no one – they do say good guys get eaten! But then Jesus on his way to Calvary knows all about that.

We’re being told that in our witness to our faith and to the coming of God’s Kingdom, we’re to have no illusions either. We’re to know how the world can operate sometimes, how we might be received, what tactics might be used against us, but at the same time not resorting to similar methods ourselves. God’s mission is ever to be done in God’s way, the way of the crucified Christ.

Ken Stewart