One of my favourite passages in the Bible is in Matthew 10 where Jesus is sends his disciples out to fly solo. After giving them detailed practical advice he says this:
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Matthew 10:16
Here we have a veritable menagerie of metaphors. So what do each of these animal images mean?
A sheep is a domesticated animal which provides, from its own body, clothing and food for mankind. It is essentially docile and harmless. It is also, to a Jewish audience such as the disciples, an essential part of the round of sacrifices to God. And yet Jesus says he is sending these defenceless sheep out amongst wolves.
While a wolf can symbolise a wild freedom and self-reliance, in this context the implication is that some of the people his disciples will encounter are dangerous and will do them harm.
His next words are clearly intended to tell us how we can move freely and safely in a hostile world: be ye therefore as wise as serpents, and harmless as doves .
The serpent is the symbol of practical wisdom the intertwined snakes of the healers staff , and also of the craftiness of that most subtle of creatures in the Garden of Eden. The snake can slither and hide, and get into and out of places other creatures are unable to; and it also has, as a last resort, its venomous bite.
But that venom is to be held in abeyance, because we are then told to be harmless as doves. The dove is also a symbol of the order of temple sacrifices. Like the sheep it is harmless. But, unlike the sheep, it can fly away. So Jesus tells us that we should physically remove ourselves from a situation of danger slithering or flying are clearly recommended.
Or, taken metaphorically, we remove ourselves from emotional attack in a wolvish world, by flying up to the higher planes of tolerance, forgiveness and love.
Mrs Mane and I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a peaceful, prosperous and abundant New Year.