In the tenth chapter of Matthew “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Different translations mention either “wise” or “shrewd” and the translations of the descriptions of doves can include “harmless, innocent or gentle.”
Doves, at least the kind in Jerusalem in the times of the wiring of this passage, were close to what we call doves today. They are known for their beauty and some for their song. What they are not known for is their aggressiveness. Doves do not attack. Indeed, they do not even attack to defend their young – a trait not often seen in nature. Rather than attack, they simply cry out loud and beat their breasts in sadness.
I want to be harmless, innocent and gentle. I try to be and often I succeed. But I am also shrewd and sometimes even wise.
This image of a fern and a piece of bamboo reminds me of this interesting juxtaposition of hard and soft, strategic and innocent, wise and gentle. What a wonderful way to strive to be and how wonderful that this is an encouragement for how we are to live our lives. The passage, admittedly, has Jesus telling the hearers (then and now) that we are often sent out into harms way. I remember when coyotes would emerge from the forest and circle my farmhouse in New Hampshire, howling in their February mating rituals, Kai would climb up on the pillow next to my head and place one paw gently on my forehead. It was hard to know if he was protecting me or seeking protection. And yet, does it matter?
We all have wolves nearby. But we also have doves nearby too. The question is not who is coming at you – for both will. Nor is the question which will prevail. The question is simply who I choose to be and be among by choice. Because I find that the more I choose to be gentle, the more gentle people are attracted to me and surround me – friends, colleagues, acquaintances. And then they outnumber the wolves or at least encourage me when we are surrounded. As for being wise or shrewd, well, I am often not. But the gentleness seems to be enough most days, when I can manage it.