As always, Jesus doesn’t make any “sense” here.  Telling his emissaries to go out into the world without any resources or backup.  Without protection.  Without even a few coins to buy a bit of bread.  They need to rely only on others’ hospitality.  And then they need to count on being abused and rejected.  They’re being sent forth “like sheep into the midst of wolves.”

Would they have accepted their call if they had known that?  Would we?

All of a sudden life with Jesus doesn’t sound very secure.

So, says Jesus, in order to live this life well, we need to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  Not noisy like crows.  Not furtive like mice.  Not scampering around like deer.  Not bearing heavy burdens like camels or donkeys.

Wise as serpents, innocent as doves.

Travel on the ground and fly high above it.

Embody ideas about eternally renewing life.  Carry news of peace in this life.

One way to understand this image from Matthew is to approach it as an urging to embrace and employ all aspects of ourselves in service to Christ’s reign, even those parts of ourselves that may seem contradictory.  In the light and life of grace, all of who we are is welcome.  Our love and our anger.  Our frustration and our joy.  Our sharpness and our gentleness.  Our grief and our healing.  Aspects of our human-ness that may seem mutually exclusive can come into harmony in and through Christ.

We can be like serpents and like doves.  All at the same time.

In fact, that’s necessary for our witness, according to Jesus.

Deeply associated with the earth, firmly grounded, we must be wise.  English synonyms of that word include shrewd.  Prudent.  Sage-like.  Insightful.  Perhaps even sly.  I would personally add discerning to the list.  We must keep our eyes on the reality in front of us and discern the best way forward.

To go back to the serpent for a moment, we must remember that the serpent’s wisdom includes shedding old skins.  Or else we die.

Deeply associated with the sky, flying and perching and observing, we must be innocent (in the emotional or spiritual sense, not the legal sense).  English synonyms for that word include naïve.  Simple-minded.  Guileless.  Unworldly.  We must take a broad view of things and remain open.  We must maintain a beginner’s mind wherever we are, whoever we’re encountering.

To go back to the dove for a moment, we must remember that in the Genesis tale of Noah’s ark, a dove went forth into a world of devastation and returned with a sign of life.

Wise as serpents, innocent as doves.

May we embrace both aspects of ourselves and discern well when and how to best express them.

Scripture: Matthew 10:7-16

-Rev. Ruth Moerdyk