Grace to you!
We continue the reflection on the mission of the twelve apostles as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 10, part of which I shared with you yesterday. The Lord advises the apostles: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). What a combination!
You may have an idea of what those parallels suggests—the wisdom of the snake and the innocence of the dove?
As an African and having seen live snakes a few times in some of our bushes and once lived up on the mountain here in the U.S.A., where rattle snakes are, I have a fair knowledge of the “skills” of the snake. I have to, so I would know not to step on one.
Snakes are very shrewd. With poor eyesight, adapted to see more at night, they learn fast how to meander through dangerous paths and not fall prey to predators. A few species, like pit vipers, have high sensitivity at night, something that acts like an infrared light making it highly safe for them to crawl their way to safety amidst dangerous paths.
For the most part, snakes’ crawls are unnoticeable. They are so silent that one could easily step on a huge snake without knowing it was there. When they buzz, hiss or rattle depending on their species, often it is to lure their bait or to warn an intruder.
Snakes are smart. They know exactly when to make their presence felt and when to hide. They can easily spot the safest zones in the field and readily hide in case of danger. They are highly intuitive as well.
Finally, snakes don’t expose themselves unnecessarily. Their first instinct is how to preserve themselves and resurface when the danger is over. They are the best examples of the instinct of self-preservation at work.
Jesus says, “Be wise as a serpent.” Why? I suggest, because the territory of missions, of evangelization and the cultures which the gospel must penetrate, are for the most part hostile to the gospel message. The Lord compares the evangelizer as sheep among wolves. It’s not funny at all.
Look, for instance, at the odds the evangelizer must face. You are preaching purity to an over sexualized world. You are preaching traditional gospel values to a world that is opposed to them. You defend objective revelation to a people who strongly uphold subjective religious experiences alone or completely reject any claim of objectivity. You are preaching modesty to a consumerist society. You are preaching self-control to a sensational mainstream. You are preaching kindness, forgiveness and love to many who want an eye for an eye. Etc.
So how would you, as a messenger of God’s Word, live and operate in such an environment?
The Lord shows a simple strategy: Be wise as a snake. See those qualities of the snake, don’t be unnecessarily loud, don’t waste your words, know when to act and when to refrain. Know exactly how to identify and use opportunities well. Be smart.
The Lord adds: “Be innocent as a dove.” Namely, be known as a gentle, peaceful, pure and honest person. Be harmless as well, because the message you bring is ultimately about “shalom”—peace.
A combination of these two qualities would help our work of evangelization today. However, know that it won’t stop us from being persecuted. We can’t avoid it completely, no matter how much we try. Our assurance from the Lord is this: “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10: 22).
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Friday Week 14: Gn 46:1-7, 28-30; Mt 10:16-23]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.