As Sheep Among WolvesFr. Barnabas Powell
Someone once said, “Anyone who says raising children is not the hardest job in the world isn’t doing it right!” And that is so very true. But “difficult” doesn’t mean “bad” or “broken,” it just means the task is meant to focus you and make you more attentive!
And in today’s society, the whole notion of what a “healthy childhood” is under attack by the madness of our current chaotic culture. Protecting our children from this destructive mindset is harder and harder because even public education is telling them all the lies o a godless system. We are faced with the challenge of making sure we form our children to know and love God in a world that doesn’t know and doesn’t love God.
And raising kids is difficult, especially in a society that has exalted perpetual adolescence to a virtue, as is the case today. The challenge is we have lost, or more likely abandoned, the very definition of “mature” and “adult.” In such a time we are tempted by two polar opposites, which are both destructive – focusing only on broken ideas of “self-esteem” which lead us to “protect” our children from “every hurtful and teachable moment” OR disregarding the tender souls given to us by God to raise and opting for a “rule-keeping” regiment that embitters or embarrasses our child. Both lead to adults who struggle with the realities of life.
Look at our lesson today in Matthew 10:16-22:
The Lord said to his disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”
Our Lord Jesus is preparing His disciples for their immediate mission of spreading the news about the arrival of God’s Kingdom AND the confrontation this message will obviously stir in a society still addicted to the temporary! And He tells them to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
What amazing wisdom! What does He mean? And how does this wisdom translate into how we are to live in our own chaotic age?
First, the Lord doesn’t sugarcoat reality. He tells His followers, and us, that He knows He is sending us out like “sheep in the midst of wolves.” You aren’t going to get the wisdom of serpents and doves if you don’t first decide to deal with reality as it really is. Hiding from reality or living in the fantasy world of “wishful thinking” always leads to destruction. We have to soberly and honestly embrace the reality that all “utopian” ideologies always end in tyranny. And they always insist it’s for our own good. I won’t be able to navigate the nuances of life without a clear understanding g of what is at stake. And I won’t be able to truly equip my children with living life well if I am not soberly attentive to this reality. But beware of the dangers of allowing reality to depress you or discourage you!
How do I do that?
You must be wise and innocent! I know, I know, that seems impossible.
Wise as a serpent means you are focused and attentive. You are able to discern your surroundings with an attentiveness that allows you to see danger coming a mile away. You are disciplined in your main goal and you know what you need and where you are going. That wisdom cannot be reduced to mere rule-keeping or thoughtless habit. The serpent uses all his resources to stay aware of his present surroundings and you must do the same with the gifted wisdom preserved for you in the Church. Unaware of this treasure of wisdom means you are ill-able to know what is going on around you and you are easy prey for the wolf!
Innocent as doves mean your motivation is always simple and clear. You are not trying to appear innocent so as to trap someone, but you really are innocent, and your motives are based on love for God and others. You are truly wise and loving not merely clever and shrewd. You allow God to so help you know yourself that you are attentive to the times when you can even accidentally be manipulative and self-serving. You are quick to repent and you are quick to serve. And you are quick to have the hard mercy you need for those who oppose the Faith.
St. Melania, the Righteous, was a noblewoman who was wealthy and of noble heritage from Roman consuls and Spanish heritage. When her husband and children dies, she left her place of honor and prestige and went to visit the monks in the Egyptian desert. There she sold all her great wealth and ministered to the persecuted Christians of the area. When the believers were forced to move from their place in Egypt to Palestine, St. Melania went with them and started a convent in the area where she reposed in peace around 410 AD. Her witness was so strong that it so affected her granddaughter that she, too became a saint of the Church. Her name was also Melania (the Younger) and we remember her on December 31.
Today, the Faith builds into the very rhythm of the Orthodox life all you need to be both wise and innocent. The treasure of wisdom within your grasp in the life of the Faith invites you today to become that person free from both foolishness and harm and then to pass this treasure on to the next generation so that they can be Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. Scorning riches that perish and worldly dignity, you sought heavenly glory through self-denial and toils, making noble rank more noble by humility; and you did build a holy house in Jerusalem, where you guided souls unto salvation. And now, O Mother Melania, grant us the alms of your rich prayers to God.