[Jesus said] “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16
We live in a messy world. Sometimes it is difficult to know whether to respond to a situation with grace or with firmness, with the gospel or with law.
For example, how many times have you been asked for money on the street? In an instant you have to decide what to do, give, or hold back. If you give there is the risk your money will be misused, if you hold back, you risk losing an opportunity help meet a real need. If you are like me, you have responded various ways, at various times, depending on many factors.
Being asked for money on the street is a relatively simple example of living Jesus’ call in a complex world. Perhaps it helps to know that Jesus had to make these decisions as well.
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. John 12:3-6
Reading this passage again, it struck me, not only was Judas the one who would ultimately betray his Lord with a kiss, but for much of the time he was with Jesus, he also had a habit of stealing from the shared resources of the group. He was a thief. He helped himself to their money, money which at least some portion thereof, would be given out to help the poor.
Yet Jesus allowed Judas to stay. He chose grace when dealing with Judas, in spite of all he did, and would do. Why? We cannot know for sure. Maybe Jesus hoped, and prayed, that abundant grace might be the thing, the only thing that could win Judas over. Certainly it wasn’t because Jesus was scared of conflict. Jesus was often firm, instructing others to turn from sin and repent. Or, perhaps, Judas was allowed to go on stealing as one more cautionary tale – beware the danger of loving money, it can lead to a multitude of sins.
While we do not know the entire story of Jesus’ interactions with Judas, I am convinced that this is a good example of what He meant when he advised his followers to be shrewd and innocent. Living in a messy, broken world, God’s people have to make decision all the time when responding to difficult situations. As Jesus teaches, we hope to be shrewd and not naive, careful and sometimes cautious. But we are also called to be people of abundant grace, avoiding judgement, bias, and prejudice, sometimes loving through, and in spite of, the sin in the lives of those we care about.
Certainly many parents have had to wade through these waters when trying to love their children well.
Firmness – grace; law – gospel; shrewd – innocent. We pray Jesus would send his Spirit to grant us discernment as we follow him through this messy world.
~Pastor Mike Middaugh