As Wise as Serpents and as Gentle as Doves

Red Haired Woman

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

I don’t know if you’ve ever known anyone who contradicted him or herself. I found someone who did last week and it was an instructive experience. I had gone up town to do some shopping and parked at the “old” post office in Manassas.

I did my shopping and came back to my car to find a small, somewhat elderly woman (it was hard to tell her age) with red hair that stuck out in all directions, examining the front of my wagon. When she saw me, she turned and said, “Is this yours?” gesturing at the front bumper.

“Yes, it is,” I replied, wondering if she had backed into me or something like that. It would be hard to tell since my car has more than a few dents.

“What does this mean?” she hissed in a manner generally reserved for wicked witches. But she didn’t look like a witch, except for her face and hair, and, come to think of it, she was wearing slightly ripped black clothes that draped off her so that she looked like a small black pine tree with a red star on top. She pointed to my license plate, which reads “WINGS-AM,” and stands for On Wings of the Morning, my first novel.

I explained this to her and then she asked, “Are you a writer?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Did you write this book?” she said in an accusatorial tone, pointing to the license again.

“I did.”

“What’s it about?”

I gave her my elevator speech and concluded by asking, “Would you like to see a copy?”

She nodded, somewhat eagerly, I thought, and I gave her one of the books. She held it close to her face, sniffed it a time or two and then handed it back to me.

“I can’t buy it. I don’t have any money.”

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.

“Well, thank you anyway.” She handed me the book and turned to leave. Then she did what I call a Colombo turn. In every episode of that show, Colombo starts to walk off from the suspect but stops, turns back to them and says, “There’s just one thing I don’t understand…” Then he reveals a clue that nails the suspect.

Reddi Whip (for so I named her because of her red hair and abrupt manner) came close to me, looked me in the face and in a conspiratorial whisper, said, “You have to be careful talking to strangers. You never know who they are or what they could do.”

I backed up a step, wondering what she would do and who she was. But she just gave me a curt nod, turned, and wove her way to the post office. They’ll know what to do with her, I thought.

As I drove home, I thought about the lady and how she warned me against the very thing she had done. I wasn’t sure of the significance of the encounter at first, but after some thought, I decided that Jesus gave the same advice in Matthew, without sporting red hair and witches’ apparel. He said, “Be wise as serpents and as gentle as doves,” and that advice is still sound today. In New Testament times, serpents were regarded as the wisest of animals, much as a fox is said to be sly or crafty in popular belief. The gentleness of a dove requires no explanation, so Jesus is saying, in so many words, “Be peaceful, forgive, don’t get angry no matter how much you are provoked, but at the same time, don’t be stupid. Keep your wits about you, learn how the world works, and figure out the best way to bring my good news to everyone, even those who are serpents. And I will help you.”

We can and should use this two-thousand-year-old advice. We would all be better for it.

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