July 8, 2011 - Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Sheep are the most vulnerable of all the animals. After millennia of domestication, sheep are about as stupid and defenseless as any animal in the world. They are basically walking piles of wool and meat. The life of a sheep depends on its obedience to a good shepherd. A sheep would not last very long in the wild at all. We are sheep. This is not a compliment. We must be obedient to our good shepherd if we are going to survive at all.

But our good shepherd is sending us like sheep in the midst of wolves! Wolves are the opposite of sheep. They are strong and fast. They have claws and teeth. They are wild and fierce. Sheep versus wolf is not a fair fight; it is not really even much of a fight at all. Notice, however, something very small. He is not sending us “into the midst of wolves” but “in the midst of wolves”. The image we should have is not of a flock of sheep wandering into a pack of wolves. The sheep are already “in the midst of wolves”. Jesus is not sending us somewhere unsafe. The whole world is already unsafe for anyone who is trying to obey God.
So he sends us with advice. What does it mean to be as shrewd as a serpent? Clearly Jesus is telling us to be very wise, and perhaps also more than that: we should be wise in a particular way. We call a serpent wise because it has only one weapon but it uses it well. A serpent does not fight a wolf by hitting it with its tail. Its fangs are deadly, so it waits patiently, then bites suddenly. This is wisdom. Our fangs and venom are the Holy Spirit. We should not hit our enemies with our own weak intelligence but rather wait for the Holy Spirit.

Last, we are to be as simple as doves. Why doves and not just birds in general? Because Jesus is referring to the pure white dove. As nothing is mixed with the white feathers, so our minds should be spotless, without any room for evil. If our hearts are pure and we can be as patient as a serpent, we will be useful to our Lord, whether we are meant to amaze the wolves into submission or be martyred by them.