Sometimes I am put on the spot, and asked a question, with hostile intent, by people who do not wish me well, and who, I sense, will use my words against me–people who are wolves in Tolkein’s terms, or “a brood of vipers” in Jesus’s colourful phrase in Matthew 12.
I often get stressed and answer truthfully, hoping innocence will be protection against evil. And it sometimes is–but sometimes evil proves stronger. In the short run, at least. Good Friday teaches us that.
* * *
In the Gospels, repeatedly, people try to trap Jesus with his words. Try to make him incriminate himself by what he says. Try to make him say things they can use against him. Interestingly, they never succeeded. He never said a single thing they could use against him in a court of law. The charges which finally led to his execution were fabricated!
He deals with each trap they lay for him differently, but most often, he sidesteps them with the agility of a ballet-dancer.
He is asked “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” (Matt 12:38)
Me, I might have got stressed, and tried to heal someone to disarm them, or provided a miracle in my conceit! Or panicked, and denied my ability to do a miracle. The former response—which would have been a presumptuous showing off– would have been ignored by my enemies. The latter would have been quoted against me.
Jesus, however, refuses to show off, and provide them the sign they desire.
A valid response to hostile questioning: Refuse to answer any questions you do not wish to answer. Refuse to do things your enemies ask you to do which you yourself do not wish to. Slow down enough to know what you really want to do.
Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12 39-40).
He answers to their request for a sign so cryptically that they do not dare to question him further for fear of having their own ignorance exposed. And that was the end of that.
* * *
I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as wise as a serpent, and as innocent as a dove, Jesus says. (Matt. 10:16).
What protection might a lamb, surrounded by a pack of wolves, have?
Its own innocence and goodness. The wisdom Christ exhorts it to have. And the eyes of the shepherd that are upon it.
And what should one do if one finds oneself surrounded by wolves, whose words are disingenuous, and cannot be trusted; who lay traps for your feet; who question you with hostile intent, and will use your words against you?
Be wise as a serpent. If possible, avoid them. Avoid getting into conversation with them. Be careful when it’s unavoidable. A mentor once told me that 90 percent of wisdom is saying as little as possible. Do so. Avoid exacerbating their envy by showing off!
When asked a point-blank question, remember that one can refuse to answer.
Or can give an opaque parallel answer like Jesus does. When asked to do a miracle, talk about Jonah and the belly of a whale, and people will be so befuddled by this that they will not press you further.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise; (Emily Dickinson)
Listen to your intuition. When surrounded by those you have reason to believe are hostile, slow down. Be quick to listen, slow to speak. Turn on your supernatural radar. Get real quiet and listen to another voice too, the lover of your soul.
Answer slowly and deliberately and with wisdom. Words will be given you, Jesus promises. “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12 11-12). “For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict,” (Luke 21:15).
Slow down enough to hear his words.