“When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner” ― William Shakespeare, Henry V
Gospel Text: (Mt 10:16-23)
Jesus said to his Apostles: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
In today's culture, sheep-among-wolves seems to still be a valid image. Our world is becoming more and more hostile to the cause of the gospel. Christians are being painted, especially by those who passionately embrace practices that are condemned by Holy Scripture and Catholic teaching, as intolerant extremists. As a side note, I'm still amazed when people use the label "intolerant" when making statements that are in themselves intolerant.
Jesus adds in today’s gospel an interesting twist to the sheep among wolves imagery. He says we are to be simple, or innocent, as doves. This counteracts any inclination that we, like the snake, need to attack with a poisonous bite.
Simplicity - or innocence - as a virtue is easy to explain: "what you see is what you get." The word in the Greek here means to be "pure" or "unmixed." It is the same word used in the Beatitudes when Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
As a virtue, what we want to develop is a life that does not have many layers of complexity. People with the virtue of simplicity are clear and transparent, and their relationships are honest and solid. There is no secret agenda, no hidden intentions. The simple person is never two-faced; he or she is sincere and straight, with nothing to hide.
Again, as sheep among wolves, we can easily be tempted to morph into different personas depending on the circumstance. We can skip a private prayer before a business lunch, choose to add salty language at the office to fit in, or do a number of other things as a cover-up for who we really are.
Not only will those around be presented with a false image of who we are, but the gospel message - both in word and action - will also be hidden as well. When we live lives of simplicity, not only will we see God, as we read in the Beatitudes, but those around us will be able to see him as well.
Prudence and simplicity are two virtues worth cultivating. These seeds are planted by those who are able to successfully navigate through the world of wolves by virtuous living and, in the love of Christ, clearly and simply deliver the message of light.