See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
There are lots of animals in this reading: sheep, wolves, snakes and doves. Where did snakes get their reputation for cleverness? It was in the Book of Genesis. “Now the serpent was craftier than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made” (3:1). “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate,” said Eve (3:13). Never since that time have they shown any signs of an ability to plan a strategy; they just react in the moment like every other animal. And they are all the better for it….
We associate intelligence with the ability to plan. We are impressed by planning, even when the objective is silly. Many things in life require planning, but it can become a compulsive habit. If I feel I have to plan everything, it means that I don’t trust myself to react correctly in some future situation. But what makes me think I can do it better now, before the situation has even arisen? How should I know what to say to some people when I haven't even seen them yet? When I do meet them I will just repeat the things I had planned before. In this way, compulsive planning ensures that I will always live in the past – which is surely very ironic. I try to live in the future before it comes, and I find myself living in the past when it does come. Intelligence isn't old hat; it is always new. We have to trust the intelligence that is in us; to distrust it is to undermine it.
“When the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say.” Not before. The things that are very alive – love, intelligence, faith – don’t keep till tomorrow; they are for now. You cannot prepare for the suddenness of a wolf’s attack except by being alert. That word ‘alertness’ is probably much closer to the essence of intelligence – and of faith too – than ‘planning’. Jesus kept saying, “Stay awake!”
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