“Behold, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise/sensible (φρόνιμοι) as serpents and pure (ἀκέραιοι, lit. unmixed, uncontaminated) as doves. Be on your guard against / Beware of people, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues…” (Mt 10: 16-17)
As part of the long list of instructions that the Lord gives His apostles in this tenth chapter of Matthew, as He sends them out on their mission, He likens them (and us, members of the “apostolic” Church) to three kinds of creatures: sheep, serpents, and doves. More precisely, He says that they (already) are “like sheep,” i.e., vulnerable and rather helpless (when without a Shepherd) vis-à-vis wolves, while they are instructed “to be” wise as serpents and pure as doves. So, “like sheep” is what we already are, as those who choose to belong to the Shepherd, Jesus Christ, while “like serpents and doves” is what we are commanded to become, that we not perish in the midst of wolves.
This morning I embrace the fact that I am 1. Like a sheep, belonging to the one flock of, and listening to the voice of, the One Shepherd, Jesus Christ (Jn 10: 16), with all the vulnerability that goes along with that. 2. I thus strive to be “wise/sensible” like a serpent, embracing the “mind” (νοῦς) of Christ (1 Cor 2: 16), Who likened Himself to the serpent that Moses raised up in the wilderness (Jn 3: 14). And finally, 3. I open my heart to being “pure“ or “uncontaminated“ like a dove, like a vessel of the grace of the Holy Spirit, Who revealed Himself to us in the likeness of a dove (Lk 3: 22). This means that I open my heart to His grace today, that my actions and words and perceptions and motivations may be in harmony with His will, and not “mixed“ or “contaminated“ with garbage like people-pleasing, self-centered fear, and other offspring of merely-human thinking/being (φρόνημα), which tend to rob me of my God-given freedom. Hence the Lord tells me to “beware of people...“ Thank You, Lord, for Your life-giving tips to us, Your ever-vulnerable, ever-grateful sheep.