Matthew 10:16 came to mind out of the blue the other day. Specifically, the second half of the verse, the part in which Jesus warns his disciples to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” as they go out to preach the Gospel to the people of Israel. I’ve always liked Jesus’ use of the phrase “shrewd as snakes,” so I want to muse on that for a bit, partially because this is a semi-sequel to Jeff’s post from Tuesday and partially because I can identify with that part of the command much more easily. (The door will be open for a post on the innocence of doves. Just sayin’.) Snakes have a bad reputation in Scripture, but their most notable trait is cast in a positive light here. Jesus reminds his followers that, in spite of their innocence, they are not meant to be passive or worse, naïve. He knows that he sends them out “like sheep among wolves,” into places in which passivity and wishy-washiness could lead to a tendency to bend and be molded. Without shrewdness, a pair of disciples would not get four houses down the road before they were listening intently to the 30 AD equivalent of a New Age guru attempting to lead them away from the path of true life that they had already found.
I don’t know why it was this verse that struck me as I was pottering in our office’s mailroom. I might have been dwelling on the pile of books that I brought home from an antique shop over the weekend, bought so that I could work on my own shrewdness, learn more about the power of language and the ways others see the world. Or I may have been reflecting on the wave of frenzy that has seized the presidential race lately and thinking about the people who buy into what a good-looking and slick-talking politician says, hook, line, and sinker.
In either of these situations, becoming too enamored with new ideas or the person spouting them is a real danger. Applied to either situation, Jesus’ words are unambiguous. I (and any Christian who reads, votes, or makes any decision of any kind) am meant to be innocent and meet new information, new people, and new ideas with a gentle heart and an open mind. But when words and actions begin to press upon us and attempt to change us at our core, we should fall back on shrewdness.
Is Paul Ryan giving us the facts about Medicare reform? Will Fifty Shades of Grey help us better understand relationships? Should we put stock into our horoscope? At crossroads like these, when our minds are overwhelmed by waves of new information and some very persuasive people, we cannot be neutral. We must respond, and we either take new things into our lives or we leave them. It is for this reason that we must seek to better understand ourselves and why we believe and think the way that we do. We must constantly test new ideas and new ways of doing things so that we know where they fit into God’s plan for our lives and for the world. And we must be mindful, as Jesus was, that the Gospel will ruffle feathers and turn things on their heads.
Lest we think that we are not susceptible to fallacies, fads, and failure, we should remember that God called the fortitude of our minds into question almost immediately after he created us. The second question God is recorded asking Adam (after “where are you?”) is “Who told you that you were naked?” The first dozen times or so that I read this verse in Genesis, I immediately read on to see what incredible excuse Adam would conjure up in response. It wasn’t until recently that I saw the heart of the question God was asking his creation. “Who told you?” “Who did you listen to beside me?” “Who had a more convincing argument than I did?”
Our answer, every single time, is “no one, but we fell anyway.” May we remember what we have in Jesus, and be shrewd as we seek to understand this world and meet it with the word of God.