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Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. But beware of men; for they will hand you over to their councils and flog you in their synagogues. On My account, you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to respond or what to say. In that hour you will be given what to say. For it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of My name, but the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next. Truly I tell you, you will not reach all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
I am not good on roller coasters – in fact I would never willingly go on one. It sort of started in my childhood, when my aunty, who was game for anything, took me to the fair and I was promptly sick on a fairly innocuous ride. I rather think that the disciples would have felt like being on one of those rides that plummet vertically from a great height. So far they have been going along with Jesus and at the start of this chapter they must have felt that things were going to be great, but with these words they are looking over a precipice. And there is no way back!
In our relatively comfortable existence in the Western world, we do not expect to be hauled off to court for what we believe, or be beaten up because we speak about Jesus. We certainly don’t expect to be before governors or monarchs charged with treason. We rather take it for granted that society is basically tolerant.
But the message of Jesus was truly revolutionary and his followers were thought to be dangerous. And I wonder if the question we face today is not so much ‘isn’t it sad that the rest of the world is not as tolerant as we are?’, but rather ‘are we so complacent that Christianity is no longer seen as revolutionary and world changing?’
It is interesting that Jesus urges the disciples to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Christians may often find it difficult to be both, but without innocence, shrewdness becomes manipulative; whilst without shrewdness, innocence becomes naivety. We face different challenges and problems, but those qualities are what we need if we are going to share the work of Jesus in our world today.
And so we pray the Collect:
God our saviour,
look on this wounded world
in pity and in power;
hold us fast to your promises of peace
won for us by your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen