Prayer and Reflection by Bishop Sylvester David OMI

Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 9 July 2021, during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.

Gospel passage – Matthew 10:16-23

I want to comment on one verse (Matthew 10:16) of the Gospel passage but prior to doing that I want to recommend a reading of the “Joseph Cycle” in the book of Genesis i.e. from Chapter 37 to the end of the book. It is about sibling rivalry, jealousy, forgiveness and family reunion. It is about pent-up emotion and the relief that comes with floods of tears – giving credibility to the observation of St Oscar Romero that some realities can only be seen by eyes which have shed tears. I resist the temptation to say more as that will rob you of the meaning that will come from your own engagement with the text.

Okay, now for Matthew 10:16 – “Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as snakes and yet innocent as doves.” This is the commissioning of the twelve and Jesus immediately speaks of the difficulties associated with following him. This is remarkable as when organisations want to attract people they hold out before them the many perks associated with the job. The logic of Jesus is different. The analogy of sheep among wolves is quite powerful as wolves have a reputation for tearing sheep apart and feasting on their flesh. This was a constant threat to the sheepfolds of first century Palestine. What Jesus is saying in essence is that discipleship is associated with deep inner strength. It is not meant for cowards. Later on Paul was to say that the spirit given to the Christian is not a spirit of timidity but of love and fortitude (2 Timothy 1:7). The word translated “timidity” also means cowardice. This is the tradition in which we stand and the history of the Church shows a rich tapestry of fortitude. Think of St Maximilian Kolbe, Bl. Josef Cebula, Bl. Benedict Daswa, St Kizito and a host of other courageous witnesses.

Jesus also gives advice on how to negotiate the difficulties associated with following him: “so be cunning as snakes and yet innocent as doves”. The word for cunning in the original text means “wise” or “prudent”. What is the wisdom of the serpent? If one observes a serpent, one will notice that it will do anything to protect its head – even being prepared to lose a part of its tail. When it gets into its lair, it immediately turns around so that the head faces the opening. This is not to watch the news of who is going by. It is a defensive strategy so that it could strike at any threat. The disciple is called to imitate this innate wisdom of the snake and to protect the integrity of the head of the Body. It is an invitation not to bring shame upon the face of Christ as that weakens the Body of Christ. We bring shame when we fail to give expression to lives we are meant to live and choose instead the way of dishonesty and compromise.

The word translated “innocent” as in innocent or gentle as doves means pure, unadulterated and untainted. This is an invitation not to imitate the aggressor and not to exact revenge. We see this in nature when flowers give off their delightful fragrance even while they are being cut down. This is exactly what Jesus did when he was murdered. He did not curse his aggressors but prayed for their forgiveness. This was perhaps the most serious lesson he taught. After he suffered every blow that could ever be laid on the innocent and after having endured every insult that human cruelty could muster, from the pulpit of the cross he preached his message: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). They knew exactly what they were doing. Mark 3:6 makes that clear. What Jesus did from his cross was to appeal for them to be shown mercy. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us about genuine love which bears all things and constantly seeks the good of others.

Jesus sends us out like lambs among wolves. He himself was led like a lamb to the slaughter. The characterisation of the suffering servant in Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 is seen in his life and salvific death. As the NT puts it: “by his stripes we are healed” (1 Peter 2:24). In Matthew 10:16 he is not asking us to do anything that he himself would not do. Rather he offers us a chance to participate in his mission – in other words to have union with him.

Let us pray: Father through his innocence your Son saved us. We humbly ask that you purify our motives, forgive us and help us to recover our innocence so that we participate more fully in his life, death and resurrection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.