Snakes and Doves

Note to the reader: This week’s meditation concerns preferring others over ourselves, which may seem odd to think about when pandemic protocol calls for social distancing and even isolation. How do we “bear one another’s burdens” in times like these? One way I’ve been thinking about lately is the practice of wearing a mask in public. Masks are not so much for protecting the wearer as they are protecting the ones nearby. In that sense it is a selfless act. The person near you benefits from your kindness, as if you are saying, “I care enough about you to wear this mask.” Mask wearing is one way of making visible what our Lord meant when he sent his disciples to be sheep among wolves.

Now this week’s meditation:

Snakes and Doves

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
– Matthew 10:16

When sending out his disciples, our Lord turns to animals to describe what they will face. They will be as vulnerable as sheep among wolves. To prepare for this peril, Christ calls on them to be shrewd like snakes yet innocent as doves. Perhaps the Christian school needs a new course in its curriculum: advanced snake and dove studies!

In terms of defining characteristics, snakes and doves are very different. When we speak of someone having a venomous personality, we acknowledge the great danger that snakes, some snakes at least, represent. The characteristics of being crafty and wily come to mind as well. On the other hand Hosea uses the dove to refer to the character of Ephraim: “Easily deceived and senseless,” he says. Taken separately, these two creatures don’t have much to commend themselves, but in combination they are ready to meet the wolves. A. T. Robertson says similarly endowed Christians combine wariness and innocence, and thereby avoid the gullibility of doves and the rascality of snakes.

Today we might say that Christians should be “street-wise” but not hold a grudge when offended. They should be courageous under pressure, yet have the grace not to respond to pressure with malice or anger. Surely all teachers would want those characteristics for their students.

Our materialistic, consumer-oriented society does little to prepare people with the other-directed qualities of courage and grace. Consumers are self-absorbed. They are savvy getters, concerned with their own happiness. Christian schools can follow our consumer culture by emphasizing getting: getting recognition in the co-curriculum, or getting good grades in academics. When our students are only passive consumers of all the resources and benefits that the school has to give, then they are simply following the goals and values of the larger culture.

On the other hand, our schools can be, ought to be, about giving as well. If our students are given opportunities to be other-directed in service to others, then we come closer to the model that Christ is describing for his disciples. Students who give of themselves to others through singing in the choir, participating in the school’s service learning program, tutoring younger students, or participating in sports, can learn many admirable lessons. As the choir sings anthems to the Lord, the listeners are encouraged, and the singers learn the value of blessing others. When students offer a cup of cold water in the Lord’s name, they learn to meet others in their pain and need, sometimes shedding tears with them. Sports, too, can foster an other-directed attitude, when athletes learn to subordinate their own glory for the good of the team. Games that are played fairly and with passion allow students to learn to win with grace and lose with dignity.

These students are learning to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves, ready to face the world. May our schools raise up many of them.

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of thy love. Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for thee. Take my voice, and let me sing, always, only, for my king. Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from thee.
– Hymn by Frances R. Havergal

Stephen Kaufmann
Covenant College