THE SERVANT GENERAL
THE WAY FORWARD IN CHRIST
SHREWD AS SERPENTS
Today’s gospel: Matthew 10:16-23
“so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”
Can one be a serpent and a dove at the same time? The two
could not be more diametrically opposed. The serpent is a
representation of Satan, while the dove is a representation
of the Holy Spirit. Shrewdness if often associated with worldliness,
where one always remains ahead of the game, where no one is
able to take advantage of you, where one knows the ins and
outs of the intricate ways of life in a fallen world. On the
other hand, simplicity is associated with unworldliness, where
one does not compete for the trappings of power and position,
where one is quietly composed but not sensational, where one
is easily satisfied with the simple blessings of life.
Jesus tells us to be both. His premise is this: “Behold,
I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves”
(Mt 10:16a). We are the Lord’s flock, the sheep of his
pasture. But we are thrust in a world dominated by the evil
one, where wolves and lions wait for someone to devour. So
what are we to do? Even as we maintain our childlike innocence
and our Christian simplicity, we are to be wise as serpents.
serpent has had its reputation for being wise from the time
of creation. Or perhaps a better word would be “cunning.”
“Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild
animals that the Lord God had made.” (Gen 3:1a). He
was so cunning that he was able to deceive the woman in Eden.
He even directly contradicted God regarding what God had said
that eating the fruit in the middle of the garden would bring
death (Gen 3:3-4), and the woman believed him.
wisdom is a gift from God (Is 11:2; 1 Cor 12:8a). “For
the Lord gives wisdom” (Prv 2:6a). If you seek wisdom,
then “the knowledge of God you will find” (Prv
2:5b). If you allow wisdom to enter your heart, “then
you will understand what is right and just, what is fair,
every good path” (Prv 2:9).
we take what is a gift of God, and use it for something contrary
to God’s ways, then it is transformed negatively. Wisdom
that is pure becomes shrewdness that is worldly or cunning
that is diabolical. Thus, the gift is to be retained, while
the negative use is to be discarded. Even Jesus commended
the dishonest steward for acting prudently (Lk 16:8). Prudence,
a fruit of wisdom, is to be extolled, while dishonesty is
Jesus points us to the wisdom of the serpent, and tells us
to be just as shrewd, because we live in a fallen world. But
we are to retain the purity and simplicity of being a holy
child of God. We are not to be simpletons, but we are simply
to be wise stewards of what has been entrusted to us by Godour
life, our talents, our abilities, our resources.
How are we to be shrewd and simple at the same time? We need
to be realistic and not naïve. There will be bad things
happening, but we simply trust in God.
“But beware of people” (Mt 10:17a). Do not be
too trusting. Know that there are many bad people around
who are just waiting for the opportunity to take advantage
of you or to do you ill. But at the same time, do not judge
or condemn them. Believe the best about people, but know
that people can manifest the worst of fallen humanity. Be
Know that “they will hand you over to courts”
(Mt 10:17b). Today there are hate speech and anti-gay discrimination
laws which are being used to sue and imprison Christians
for speaking against homosexuality or refusing to give service
to gay couples. When this happens, “when they hand
you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what
you are to say.” (Mt 10:19a). We have our Paraclete,
our Advocate, our defender the Holy Spirit. Jesus says God
“will give you another Advocate to be with you always”
(Jn 14:16b). And what will the Holy Spirit do? “The
Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my
namehe will teach you everything and remind you of
all that I told you.” (Jn 14:26).
Know that even “brother will hand over brother to
death, and the father his child; children will rise up against
parents and have them put to death.” (Mt 10:21). Love
your parents, siblings and children anyway.
Know that “you will be hated by all because of my
name” (Mt 10:22a). But despite that, if we cling to
Jesus, then “whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
Know that they may “persecute you in one town”
(Mt 10:23a). You do not have to suffer such persecution
if you can avoid it, so “flee to another” town
Now let me propose another way by which we can apply the call
of Jesus to be wise as a serpent but innocent as a dove. This
has to do with white lies. White lie? Is that about situations
where people claim it is all right to lie, that it is not
a sin? Are not all lies sins? Should we not tell the truth
in every circumstance?
consider the following scenarios where I believe it is all
right, even good, to lie.
German harboring Jews during the Nazi period is asked by
the SS whether he knows of any Jews in the vicinity.
He can lie and say no, in order to save the lives of the
A Christian traveler to Libya or Sudan, who is smuggling
some Bibles for believers inside those countries, is asked
by authorities if he has any Christian articles or literature,
especially the Bible, with him. He can lie and say no, so
the Bibles would not be confiscated and destroyed.
A Catholic priest enters Saudi Arabia presenting himself
as a businessman, with fake documentation, in order to clandestinely
celebrate Mass for the faithful.
A person who is seriously injured in an accident together
with his wife asks the nurse if his wife survived (she did
not). The nurse can lie in order to spare him the added
trauma that could cost him his life.
mother in a poor family who is apportioning a meager meal
among her young children is asked by them if she won’t
eat as well. She says she is not hungry.
A young grandchild sings a song (off-key) or presents a
drawing (just a mishmash of lines) to her grandparents,
who then are profuse in their praise of the song or the
can be many more such scenarios and examples. But you get
the drift. In these situations, to lie is to be wise as a
serpent, but at the same time to be innocent as a dove is
to have no intent to deceive for selfish purposes, with the
lie told out of genuine concern and belief that it is the
best for those concerned.
The serpent was shrewd in maneuvering to bring down the woman
God created and deprive His creation of the perfection of
Eden. The dishonest steward was shrewd in marking down the
amounts owed by people to his master, to gain their favor
in view of his impending loss of his job. We too are to be
shrewd in our persistence to attain to our goal, life on high
with Christ, thereby reversing the effects of the fall. We
too are to be shrewd in making friends with the world we are
to evangelize, thereby earning the praise of our Master.
do all these with the wisdom that is of God, and simple faith
For reflection and/or discussion: Do you always tell
the truth, even if it might cause difficulties for you?
For prayer and action: Be pure in all your thoughts
and words and actions, looking to Jesus who is the Truth.
Notice: The above is taken from my new book, “Forty
Days of Challenge in the Christian Life,” just recently
issued. The book will tackle 40 difficult teachings in the
Bible and explain what these mean. Do get your copy.
This is not about discrimination, but conscientious objection,
such as a committed Christian not allowing a gay couple to
stay at his B&B, or refusing to give photography services
for a gay wedding, or a Catholic adoption agency refusing
to give babies for adoption by a gay couple, etc.
 Schutzstaffel (“Protective Squadron”), the
armed wing of the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler.