Powered by Fr. Abraham Mutholath Foundation NFP


“Be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Mt 10:16).

The Bible presents the snake as the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made (Gen 3:1). The invisible Satan took the form of a serpent and spoke to Eve to misguide her against God’s precepts. However, Jesus presents here the serpent’s wisdom, not as cunning, but as a prudent conduct derived from the popular concept of the time.

After presenting the parable of a dishonest steward, Jesus concluded, “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light” (Lk 16:1-8). In contrast to the people of the world who are shrewd in their worldly security, His followers must be prudent in securing the afterlife. During their missionary venture, the disciples should follow the wisdom that the Holy Spirit provides.

The Bible presents the dove as a clean and innocent bird. Like the sheep, it is also defenseless and acceptable for Temple sacrifice (Lev 5:7-11). The Holy Spirit took the shape of a dove while descending on Jesus at the time of His baptism. God considered Israel as a dove: “Out of Egypt they shall come trembling, like birds, like doves, from the land of Assyria; And I will resettle them in their homes, oracle of the LORD” (Hos 11:11). Since the dove is a tame bird, it is a symbol of peace, purity, love, and innocence.

With a combination of the attributes of the serpent and dove, Jesus incorporates all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord” (CCC-1831). Jesus exercised these as a role model for us during His public ministry, especially in dealing with the opponents He encountered. Though innocent, Jesus did not subject Himself to every assassination attempt on Him by His adversaries. He used prudence in disputing with them and subjected Himself to death only when His hour had come. His disciples also should not yield to untimely martyrdom or physically counterattack enemies. Instead, they should defend the gospel and evade dangers. “When they persecute you in one town, flee to another” (Mt 10:23). They will find other avenues that would welcome their service.

Jesus clarified how the disciples could be simple and wise: “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute” (Lk 21:14-15). Paul presents wisdom as the first among the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12:8). In the parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25:1-13), Jesus presented the need for wisdom in Christian living.

According to the Acts of the Apostles, Peter, John, Stephen, and Paul wisely defended their Christian beliefs before their adversaries. “Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, they were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus” (Acts 4:13). The Jewish opponents who interrogated Stephen “could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke” (Acts 6:10). While Paul was in Ephesus, “He entered the synagogue, and for three months debated boldly with persuasive arguments about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8).


The call to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16) remains deeply relevant for Christians in our modern world. Here are some ways we can apply this teaching:

Prudence in Action

We must exercise prudence and wisdom in navigating the complexities of society while maintaining our Christian values. This means being discerning about the media we consume, the company we keep, and the choices we make. As Jesus prayed for His disciples, we should strive to be “in the world but not of the world” (Jn 17:14-15).

Simplicity of Heart

At the same time, we are called to maintain childlike simplicity and purity of heart. This involves cultivating humility, avoiding unnecessary complications in our spiritual lives, and approaching God and others with sincerity and openness. Jesus emphasized the importance of a pure heart: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8).

Guided by the Holy Spirit

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord – are essential tools for living out this balance. We should regularly pray for an increase of these gifts in our lives, trusting in the Holy Spirit to guide us (Isa 11:2-3).

Defending the Faith

Like the apostles, we may be called upon to defend our faith. We must prepare ourselves through study and prayer, trusting that the Holy Spirit will give us the words we need when the time comes: “Do not worry beforehand about what to say; just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit” (Mk 13:11).

Avoiding Unnecessary Conflict

While we should always be ready to give a reason for our hope (1 Pet 3:15), we must also know when to step back from unproductive arguments or potentially dangerous situations. Sometimes, the wisest course is to shake the dust from our feet and move on, as Jesus instructed His disciples (Mt 10:14).

Living as Witnesses

Ultimately, our lives should be a witness to the transformative power of Christ. By embodying both wisdom and innocence, we can attract others to the faith through our example. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

As we strive to live out this teaching, let us remember that it is through God’s grace that we can achieve this balance. May we continually seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to shape us into disciples who are both wise and innocent, shrewd and simple, as we navigate the challenges of living our faith in today’s world.

©Bibleinterpretation.org. All Rights Reserved 2024