The quote here comes as Jesus was sending his disciples out into the world to share the good news. As they are going out to do the work He was sending them to do he gives them this warning to heed as they go, “I am sending you into a world of wolves and you are sheep. So be careful, in fact you must be as shrewd as a snake to make it, but do not lose your innocence in the process; stay as innocent as a dove.” (Bowman Translation)
Listen, the thing we overlook here most often as we read is how much the disciples would have understood the imagery of what was going on. You see, they would have understood what it was like for a shepherd to tend his sheep and see a wolf come against them. They would have understood that power, the destruction one wolf could have wreaked on the sheepfold. And Jesus is saying, hey I am sending you into a pack of wolves as a sheep. They would have understood clearly the warning he was giving them about going into a clearly divided world.
As Jesus talked about the snake, don’t think they didn’t clearly understand the imagery that was coming from the Garden of Eden. How shrewd and cunning was the snake that He was able to convince Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit God had commanded them not to eat. Is this a command to sin against God for the disciples and do whatever it takes to share the gospel? I don’t believe so, I believe it was a command to use their minds as well as their hearts to share the news he was sending them to share. If he had wanted them to sin, he would not have given the next image.
Surely, they would have understood the symbolism of the dove. An innocent creature that would fly away at the first sense of trouble. A bird that was often thought of as a symbol of true beauty as seen in Song of Solomon 1:15.
There is so much information packed into this one verse for his disciples as they go out. Be strong, and be humble, be wise, be aware of your surroundings.
I think Jesus would tell us the same thing today, go into the world and share the good news that I have told you. Realize when you go out, there will be wolves, and lots of them, people ready to attack you for what you are saying, but don’t stop. Keep sharing the good news, like the snake, share in a way they will understand, and like a dove, be ready to fly away when you sense the first sign of trouble.
Who can you share with today?