Shrewd or Wise?Fr. Barnabas Powell
You’ve heard me say this before if you’ve been reading a while: Being shrewd isn’t necessarily the same as being wise. And the reason is an evil man can be shrewd and calculating, but only a good man can be truly wise.
Now that doesn’t mean that shrewdness is always evil. Far from it. Our Lord told His disciples in Matthew 10:6 “…be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” And He meant, be aware of your surroundings, be awake to consequences, and be on the look out for both danger and opportunity. That means that being a shrewd businessman or a shrewd politician, or even a shrewd leader may mean being a good steward of your gifts and your goals.
But this shrewdness must always be governed by love. The second it becomes self serving, it will always become evil. Always.
The truth is you and I have known the challenges of those whom we have experienced as “calculating” persons. There’s an article in today’s “The Hill” paper about a politician who had a “hit list” of those people he had helped in the past but had been less than completely loyal when the politician needed them. Hey, no surprise there. The fact is politics is both an historical and very common human reality and often very messy. But isn’t that the way our human relationships always are? Our relationships aren’t nearly as neat and clean as most of us like to pretend.
And yet, because of our Orthodox Christian faith, we know that it is precisely relationships where our faith is suppose to transform us into Christ-like persons. It is in the crucible of relationships where the hardest work of being Orthodox on Purpose takes place. And there are going to be some messy times in that journey of lifelong relationships.
In our Gospel Lesson today, we see the Lord Jesus deal with some fairly messy relationships Himself. You’ve read here how “volatile” the Lord’s relationships were with the religious leaders of His day. They, for the most part, simply didn’t understand or agree with His ministry or His message. They felt He was a threat to their “status quo.” Of course, they were right about that last one. He was, and frankly still is, a threat to all ossified leadership that has forgotten the dynamics of love and have reduced leadership in the faith to mere shrewdness.
As usual, the Lord is speaking out on the Truth and, because He speaks with such authority, the people listen to Him and follow His words. The religious leaders ask the Lord “By what authority are you doing all this?” (see the Gospel Lesson in Luke 20:1-8). Jesus, knowing their hearts, turns this around on them and questions their own insight into the very nature of authority. And the religious leaders, fearing the crowds, refuse to answer the Lord’s question. And so He responds “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Luke 20:8)
Notice, the Lord was so completely at peace with Himself, He felt no need to satisfy the self serving challenges of the religious leaders. He responded to their “shrewdness” with peace and with a clear revelation of who they really were for all to see.
Today, your inner spiritual discipline will create a clear sense of purpose and humility in your own heart. This internal work, diligently pursued, will serve you when you face the messy times in any relationship. This consistent spiritual development in your own heart; this seeing to your own sins and putting your best energies toward your devotion to Christ, will equip you to both be aware of those around you and to love them enough to refuse to be captured by their fears and their selfish needs. It will also set you free to actually be in healthy relationships that both reveal your own spiritual needs and the needs of the other without shame or condemnation. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? That’s because it is!
Relationships are hard. And they are hard precisely because they are so very significant. And they are significant precisely because you and I were made for relationships because we were created in the Image of God Who is Himself Persons in Communion. Today, square your shoulders to do the hard work of communion, of being in relationships, and watch as the Lord Jesus gives you both insight into yourself AND ability to see clearly how to avoid mere shrewdness and become truly wise.