Wise as a Serpent

France 1944. An officer told my father to drive down a particular road in a jeep to reconnoitre the terrain. My father, an experienced soldier by this time, saw a problem. That road is a perfect ambush spot, he told the officer. Better to send an armoured vehicle down there first. The officer agreed and sure enough they came upon a German ambush and scattered it. It is all very well to obey orders, but we need to use our intelligence as well. If my father had simply obeyed orders, I would not be here to tell you this story.

 

Today Jesus tells us that we are lambs in the midst of wolves in this world, lambs because we are innocent in spirit, with no desire to hurt or harm others. In this sense we are, as the Lord advises us to be, innocent as doves. The Greek word is ‘akaraios’ and means pure and simple in our ways.

 

But innocence by itself will not save us. He tells us also to be as cunning as serpents. The Greek word is ‘phronimos’. It means to be intelligent and wise, to be prudent and mindful of one’s interests. Well, my father showed lots of ‘phronimos’ that day!

 

Jesus goes on to say that when people are arrested and interrogated they need not spend lots of time thinking up their defence. What they need to say will be given to them by the Spirit. As the Lord said in another place, let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. Simple and straightforward honesty does not require much research.

 

We are often ‘arrested’ in ordinary daily conversations where people say objectionable things to us. Our answers can be innocent and also wise. Not hurtful but intelligent.

 

My father did not so much object to what the officer told him, as wisely point out the flaw in the suggestion. In later days when I began to know my father, I saw for myself that he was as innocent as a dove and yet as wise as a serpent.

 

Brian Fahy

8 July 2022

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