“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves...
This year marks the first time we will be without our kids on Halloween. Each one of our children has decided to go trick or treating on their own with their friends. I know they’re old enough, and hopefully smart enough, to manage without parental supervision, but it still seems odd to send them out there, like sheep without a shepherd to watch over them.
If Jesus is who the bible makes him out to be, I’m sure he had some reservations about sending his disciples out for the first time. Though he specifically sent them into Jewish communities, Jesus did so knowing how vulnerable they’d be; “like sheep in the midst of wolves.”
This isn’t the first time Jesus said something like this. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel he told his disciples to “Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:12). In both instances Jesus warns us that people aren’t always who they appear to be. I guess, costumes and disguises aren’t only brought out for Halloween.
For the Twelve to be successful on this quick mission trip, they must, according to Jesus, combine the wisdom of a serpent with the harmlessness of a dove. This seems like an unlikely duo. Biblically speaking, the proverbial view of a serpent is “crafty” and “shrewd” like the one we meet in the Garden of Eden. Is Jesus telling us to be sneaky and deceiving?
The dove, on the other hand, was thought of as innocent and harmless, even today, they’re used as symbols of peace, while snakes are used as warning of danger. Maybe Jesus telling us to be peacemakers, even though he knows there’s real danger in doing so.
Sharing the gospel is risky business. Especially when you’re being asked to do it like Jesus did - without any disguises to hide behind.
Jesus sends the Twelve without any money, shoes or other comforts. He wants them to take nothing but the love of God in their hearts. I’m sure you can imagine that requires one to be both skillful and kind.
Of course, the world, then as it is now, was purposefully hostile to Jesus’ message – no different than wolves who are intentional about the harm they inflict upon sheep. If we are going to follow Jesus, then we must do so purposefully to avoid becoming predatory ourselves.
To take the name Christians means we will shape our lives like Christ, with only the intention to do God’s will.
Somewhere along the way, I fear many of us have forgotten this. You don’t have to look beyond the front page to find someone who pretends to be one thing on the outside, while on the inside they’re nothing more than ravenous wolves.
Even in the church, there are those who say they love Jesus, but then go and hate their neighbor. That just won’t do. St John the Apostle reminds us, “Whoever says they love God and hates their brother or sister is a liar. For those who do not love someone they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
There’s no place for such deception and disguise in God’s kingdom. If you say you follow Jesus then you have to be like him – walk his path, speak his words, live his love, practice his way…even if the world kills you for doing so.
The Bible is very clear about one thing. Jesus is who he says he is. He practices what he preaches, lives out what he teaches. He doesn’t hide behind the law, but willingly exposes his vulnerability through his compassion.
Jesus is wise like a snake who avoided being caught in the many traps his enemies laid for him (Mark 8:11; 10:2; 12:13). And he was also as innocent as a dove, constantly inviting his enemies to find fault in him (John 8:46; 18:23). Three times, Pilate failed to find any deficiency in his character (John 18:38; 19:4, 6).
Jesus is our mirror. Like him, we too must balance between being a dove and a serpent, because the world is going to try its hardest to tear us down. We must strive to be gentle without being pushovers, and kind without being taken advantage of.
Like St. Peter wrote to the churches, we need to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they will still see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).
This is a good reminder for us, especially as we step into that sacred space of life and all it's messiness.
As we enter Anamesa, may we never lose sight of the truth that we are the one’s Jesus is sending to announce the good news to bring healing, reconciliation, and love to the world. What this will look like is anyone’s guess. All I know is that we must begin.
Now, I’m pretty sure those first Twelve were unsure about what to do. I’m positive they too were nervous and scared to step outside their close circle of friends knowing there were wolves waiting for them. Jesus knows the dangers that await us all. And yet he still sends us out there. He sends us because Jesus also knows the world is still hurting, grieving, and crying out for love.
Sharing the gospel is dangerous and scary. But we are given this assurance that we do not do this work alone. Jesus sent the Twelve, like he sends us, with the power of the Holy Spirit by their side. For it’s not us, or our abilities, that brings God’s love into the world. It is the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that empowered Jesus to be wise and innocent.
With the Holy Spirit in us, we can drop the masks and leave our costumes at home. We can go out into the world wearing nothing more than God’s glory so that when people see us they only see love, mercy and grace welcoming them. We don’t need to take anything with us, outside a Christlike heart and a desire to do God’s will.
While it’s fun to dress up and pretend to be a zombie, or action figure or someone from Harry Potter, Jesus sends us, naked and vulnerable, into our own communities – our families, friendships, workplaces, and social groups – to bring the good news to those who hurting, searching, or suffering in pain.
Jesus is sending us, into Anamesa, to face the wolves of fear, rage, racism, and resentment, which we tend to wear to hide our hopelessness, despair, emptiness, and pain. Jesus sends us out to name those things and heal them.
We are his people, his sacred body, entrusted with his crucified heart and hands to lift one another up, to bear one another’s pain, and redeem everyone back to God’s loving and open arms.
As you leave here today, I invite you to leave your costumes and masks as well. God has no use for them. But God has a use for you.
I also challenge you to be bold in your faith, believing that through Christ Jesus, God has already blessed you and prepared and empowered you to enter into any and every space proclaiming the good news, “The Kingdom of God has come near.”
The time has come also for us to shake the dust off our feet and go – wise as serpents and innocent as doves – to share God’s love in the world by being nothing more than God’s love for all.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”