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Something to read

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

- Matthew 10.16.

Something to think about

We don't often think of 'shrewdness' as a Christian virtue, do we? When I try to make sense of what Jesus is saying here, one image that comes to mind is the character of Harold Skimpole in Charles Dickens' novel Bleak House. Skimpole takes every opportunity to announce that he cannot be given any responsibility, or be expected to understand any of life's complexities (especially when it comes to money) because he is a 'mere child'. All he asks for, he protests, is to be 'free' as 'the butterflies are free'.

Skimpole claims the innocence of the dove and the meekness of the sheep, as well as the freedom of the butterfly, and renounces any idea of practising shrewdness. Of course, if we look a little deeper, his claims quickly fall apart. Skimpole's freedom and lack of care is entirely dependent on others doing all the working and caring and worrying for him. His long-suffering family and friends pay the price both metaphorically and literally, as they cover his debts and right his wrongs.

Skimpole actually has a well-developed capacity for shrewdness, despite his protestations. He uses this to divest himself of his cares and responsibilities and hand over his problems to others. His innocence is false but his shrewdness is sharply real. He would not have made a good disciple!

Jesus' message to his disciples is that they must be truly innocent - they can't put on a facade like Skimpole. Nor can they detach themselves from the world and its troubles. They need to immerse themselves in the ups and downs of life and practice shrewdness not as manipulation but as insight, careful judgement, and responsible action, recognising that sin is something each and all of us have to wrestle with. It's no good saying that you can't possibly understand when and why things go wrong. We all need to work to understand our world and ourselves better in order to serve God.

Something to do

Look at the countries and regions that Christian Aid works in. Choose one you know little about and set yourself the task of becoming better-informed. You can start with the information on our website, then use your judgement to explore further and consider your responsibilities to your global neighbours.

Active Countries - Christian Aid

Something to pray

O God, who is the light of the minds that know you,

the life of the souls that love you,

the strength of the thoughts that seek you,

help us so to know you,

that we may truly love you.

So to love you that we may fully serve you,

whose service is perfect freedom;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Early Christian prayer attributed to St Augustine)

This contribution was written by Dr Frances Clemson, Faith Communications and Just Scripture Specialist at Christian Aid.