Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wise as Serpents

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

During a Q&A following my presentation on “Reconciliation” this past weekend in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a young woman commented on the difficulty having true dialogue with an opponent who feels free to attack in a way that same opponent would resent being attacked.

I recognized the experience. Many religious and political conservatives seem to require a lot of coddling when we try to offer liberal or progressive alternate views. I try to say nice things about their heroes or values or viewpoints while they seem to feel no compunction blasting mine!
I had just contributed reflections to a lectionary resource book on Jesus’ admonition to his disciples as he sent them out to proclaim the commonwealth of God: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” The King James Version has “harmless as doves,” suggesting gentleness.

But this counsel seems only to be expected of the underdog facing off with the powerful and privileged. And so in recent centuries we honor the wisdom and gentleness of people like Sojourner Truth, Margaret Sanger, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero, and Desmond Tutu.

But why aren’t those who oppose movements of the Spirit similarly counseled to wisdom and gentleness? Why are they allowed to get away with ignorance and harshness?

Wise and gentle Mary’s anticipation of the commonwealth of God was read in the Pittsburgh churches I preached in Sunday: “God has shown divine strength, scattering the proud in the imagination of their hearts, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, and lifting the lowly; filling the hungry with good things, and confounding the privileged.”

In her book, Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris reminds us that Mary’s song was considered so subversive that “the government of Guatemala banned its public recitation” in the 1980’s!

Like mother, like son.


  1. This is a delightfully insightful essay. Of course, the truth is clear. Those who claim the name of "Christian", but behave in a manner directly opposite to the way Jesus demonstrated, are giving their claims the lie by every foul and abusive word they utter. The reason we HAVE to behave differently, despite how discouraging and annoying it is to not follow our natural inclination and "answer back" in the same tone, is that if we imitate them, we become them.

  2. We posted this on The Christian Left. Join us.