“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (NRSV)
Following Jesus is often a series of balancing acts. When Jesus sent out his disciples on a preaching mission, he both encouraged engagement with those they met but also decisive rejection of others they met. And here he wants them, and presumably us, to be like serpents and doves.
His idea seems to be that we are not to be naïve, not to be taken for a ride by unscrupulous people. We don’t fall for every con trick. We don’t believe everything we hear. We don’t let our generally positive view of humankind lose sight of the imperfections of humankind. We are sharp-eyed as well as wide-eyed.
Then again, we are not to sink into weary cynicism either. We don’t view the world through suspicious eyes which are always looking for some secret catch, always figuring someone is out to get us. The world might sometimes seem a dark place, but we don’t want to be part of that darkness even as we acknowledge its reality.
The reality is that we, sheep who follow the good shepherd, must be aware of the dangerous wolves round about. We need to be smart sheep.