“To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” says the old phrase.
Many years ago, Indian youths would go away in solitude to prepare for manhood. One such youth hiked into a beautiful valley, green with trees, bright with flowers. There he fasted. But on the third day, as he looked up at the surrounding mountains, he noticed one tall, rugged peak, capped with dazzling snow.
“I will test myself against that mountain,” he thought. He put on his water-buffalo-hide shirt, threw his blanket over his shoulders and set off to climb the peak. When he reached the top he stood on the rim of the world. He could see forever, and his heart swelled with pride. Then he heard a rustle at his feet, and looking down, he saw a snake. Before he could move, the snake spoke.
“I am about to die,” said the snake. “It is too cold for me up here and I am freezing. There is no food and I am starving. Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley.”
“No,” said the youth. “I am forewarned. I know your kind. You are a viper. If I pick you up, you will bite, and your bite will kill me.”
“Not so,” said the snake. “I will treat you differently. If you do this for me, you will be special. I will not harm you.”
The youth resisted a while, but this was a very persuasive snake with beautiful markings. At last the youth tucked it under his shirt and carried it down to the valley. There he laid it gently on the grass. Suddenly, the snake coiled and leapt, biting him on the leg.
“But you promised!” cried the youth.
“You knew what I was when you picked me up,” said the snake as it slithered away.
In his mission’s instructions to his disciples, Jesus made use of four different creatures to explain both the danger and the beauty of the ministry.
“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3). In Matthew’s gospel the statement was put like this “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16).
As people called to witness the love and goodness of our God in these challenging times, I invite you to examine the wisdom from these four creatures:
Lamb: Two of the greatest lessons I have learn from lambs or sheep are (1) total dependence on the shepherd and (2) dependence on one another (togetherness); wise lambs are never alone.
Wolves: Wolves are wonderful creatures, but they can be cruel when attacking their prey or protecting their territory. They work together to stalk other animals and pounce and tear out the prey’s throat. In Jesus’ teaching context, wolves represent cruelty, injustice, danger, persecution and sometimes it may mean death; these describe the various obstacles we will encounter in the discharge of our duties as followers of Christ.
Therefore, Jesus said:
Be wise as the Serpent: Jesus is not asking his disciples to be cunning (manipulative) like the serpent but to learn from the serpent’s wisdom in the mastery of its environment. Serpents possess the special ability to be sensitive and be at alert all time. Awareness of both self and others is a great tool for ministry in this challenging time. Not slumbering but to be awake and be ready. To be sensitive to the voice of and signal from the master. The ability to code and decode time and signs; not taking anything for granted.
Be harmless as the Dove: The dove is an excellent creature. It was so acceptable that, in the old law, God would have the dove offered in sacrifice. The Holy Spirit, when appearing in a visible shape, assumed the likeness of a dove, Matthew 3:16. We should be like doves in three respects: meekness, innocence, and purity.
We have seen many wise people. Humble people are not hard to find, but people who can combine wisdom with humility are not easy to come by. A great disciple of our Lord will be the one who is able to combine the wisdom of the serpent and the humility of a dove. A beautiful Christian is the one who has a serpent’s eye in the dove’s head.
The young man in our story despised his intuition; he took knowledge and instructions for granted and he paid dearly for his foolishness.
The ability to remember scriptural warnings and the courage to put them to practice will save us from the impending dangers of our modern time.
May the Holy Spirit continue to interpret these words in our hearts.