Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA
Wolves. Sheep. Serpents. And doves. There's a veritable Noah's Ark in the gospel this evening, a whole zoo's worth of critters living in Jesus' imagination! In the wolf, there's a predator's singular focus on his prey and the cold cruelty of instinct. In the sheep, there's a docility, an innocence, a need to be protected. Serpents are cunning, calculating, and dangerously patient. Doves are gentle and pure. Jesus says that he is sending us as prey among the predators, so we must learn to be both shrewd and gentle, both cunning and pure. How do we manage that? When we are handed over to be prosecuted for treason or heresy, we need not worry about what we will say in our defense. Jesus assures us, “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.” But if we will be given what to say in our own defense at the moment of greatest need, then why must we like both the serpent and the dove while living as sheep among the wolves? If the Holy Spirit will defend us, and use our voices to do so, then we must be prepared to hear His Word. Before we can speak, we must listen.
Sheep are notoriously stupid animals. Too stupid to learn much of anything. Wolves are much, much more intelligent, but they are largely driven by predatory instinct and not very obedient. So, Jesus is sending us to live as stupid prey animals among intelligent predators. But we are to be shrewd and gentle. Serpents have a rep for being sly, patient, manipulative, so they would probably make good students but dangerous friends. Doves don't exactly inspire wonder with their smarts, but they are beautiful, and they have a history of showing up at just the right time. Since the Spirit of the Father will be given to us when we need Him, our serpentine cunning and dove-like gentleness aren't really meant to be primary defenses against the wolves. Our primary defense is the Holy Spirit! Shrewdness and gentleness prepare us to receive the Spirit of the Father and to speak His Word. So, our hearing must be astute, and our listening docile—ready to be taught. To receive His Spirit requires docility, and to speak His Word in the Spirit requires ingenuity. To receive His Spirit requires the peace that comes with obedience, and to speak His Word in the Spirit requires the courage, trust, and fortitude that only He can give.
Wolves will never fear sheep. Nor stop hunting them. So, sheep will always need a shepherd to protect them. The Holy Spirit is our protector, and if we will hear Him speak to us, we will grow in obedience, docility, and faith. This doesn't mean that we should nurture stupidity or timidity and dumbly wait to be rescued. It means that we throw ourselves into the source of Truth itself—God Himself; learn all we can learn about Him from Him; and then, commit ourselves to relying wholly and alone on His care. Are we resolved to being preachers of the truth and teachers of our apostolic faith? Are we fully given over to being wily promoters of God's justice and glowing examples of His mercy? Some of the sheep in the flock smell faintly of wolf. Jesus warns us that there will be those among us who seek to divide the flock, separate off the vulnerable as easy pickings. The Spirit of the Father will never speak with the voice of a hungry wolf, or a sneaky snake. He chooses His sheep—sheep who are prepared with His abundant help to speak His Word, and see it done. So, we listen with sharp ears and docile hearts, ready to learn. That is how we will endure.___________________
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