In Boston, last Saturday, a 22-year-old woman was studying and doing work at a table in the Winchester Public Library’s reading room. Then, apparently for no reason, 23-year-old Jeffrey Yao attacked her with a 10-inch knife. The woman suffered numerous slash and stab wounds to her head and upper torso, and later died of her wounds. Several people tried to help her, including a 77-year-old man who was stabbed in the arm. He was treated and released.
Stories like this get lost in the horrific news of mass shootings like the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, leaving 58 people dead and 851 injured; or, in Orlando, Florida where a 29-year-old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 58 others in a nightclub; and, the latest where 17 were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Not to mention the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where the gunman killed 26 and injured 20 others.
It seems like every week we are cast into the middle of the most recent mass shooting in large cities and small towns alike.
And then there are natural disasters such as hurricanes, and earthquakes, and the possibility that Yellowstone National Park will erupt into a super volcano; not to mention tornados like the one that nearly destroyed Greensburg, 30 miles down the road.
And then there are world leaders, including our own, who are posturing and bragging about how big their nuclear buttons are, and how close they are to pushing them.
Here in our town, we recently had a handful of bike riding thieves terrorizing people, and doors were being double-locked and surveillance systems were being bought and installed.
Do you feel safe? Just because we live in a small, south central Kansas town, does that make us immune to the tragedies that happen in the world every day? It doesn’t matter where or who you are. It certainly is enough to make you look over your shoulder while you’re checking out books at the library, in case some whack job walks in with a hunting knife and starts stabbing people.
It is a crazy world.
One of the things I remember from my studies in Sociology is what’s called “the law of mutual predictability.” What the law of mutual predictability is, is that when we are dealing with others in social situations, or just every day situations, we can mutually predict how the other is going to behave. It’s based on how we have all agreed to abide by certain mutually predictable behaviors, so we don’t have to be guessing all the time about how others are going to behave.
An example might be, when you’re walking down the sidewalk, and someone is walking toward you from the opposite direction, you can mutually predict you will pass each other without altercation. You can predict that that other person isn’t going to suddenly stick their foot out and trip you onto our face on the sidewalk for no reason. That’s just not the unspoken social agreement we have with others who share the sidewalk.
But it’s these very random acts of misbehavior, that break that law of mutual predictability, that make our world so bizarre and dangerous. Because they aren’t just some socially mischievous person trying to trip you on the sidewalk. It’s someone cutting a hole in their upper floor motel window so they can slide a high power rifle through that hole and try to shoot you. That’s just not supposed to happen.
I should be able to expect that I can go to the public library and read a book in solitude and quiet without someone trying to stab me to death. I should be able to go to school and see my friends, and have a crush on some girl who doesn’t know I exist, and get homework assignments I can groan about; not, hide under my desk and have someone randomly walk up to me and shoot me.
None of those people in the events I listed at the outset of this message, got up that morning and said to themselves as they looked in the mirror, “I predict I’m going to get shot today; or stabbed; or tripped on the sidewalk by some idiot and break my nose.” No. They looked in the mirror and said, “This is going to be such a great day! I’m going to a concert tonight;” or, “I’m finally going to ask that girl out,”; or, “I’m looking forward to going to the library and get some research done.”
You just never know, anymore. And that’s why our world is such a messed up place. There is no, total, mutual predictability anymore.
Now here’s the hardest thing about all that. Right here in the Bible, right here in the verses Deb read, it tells us that’s the very world Jesus sends us out into. And Jesus has to tell us, as we are being sent out into that world, to, “stay alert,” or as the NIrV has it, “Watch out!”
Yeah, I guess so, since Jesus describes the world out there as a wolf pack: I’m sending you out as sheep among wolves.” Thanks a lot. To the Wolfpack world, we look like lamb chops on four legs. Great.
But it’s not just the way of the world that gets me in this statement of Jesus. It isn’t just about the hazards of the world. The “wolf pack” is an aptly descriptive term for the hazards and dangers of the world as it is.
One of the ways Christians have tried to cope with the wolf pack world is to live outside of it, in closed communities, cloistered away, cut off from the world. Or, like the Christian monks who became hermits—the so-called desert fathers and mothers—who tried to escape from the world by isolating themselves, trying to be faithful in that way.
But that’s not the way Jesus wanted his believers and followers to respond to the dangerous world. In fact, Jesus’ way is the direct opposite: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves...”. Jesus is not telling his followers to avoid the wolf pack world, but to throw themselves into the middle of it.
I have spent a certain amount of time in Benedictine monasteries during study leave. It’s nice, even safe, to be in those places for a week or two at a time. Everything is quiet. Everyone smiles. Conversation is easy. Books are plentiful. The law of mutual predictability is as thick as maple syrup. As nice as that is, it’s not what Jesus told us to do.
By contrast, there are a group of Jesuits in a monastery in Hollywood, who do things a bit differently. Even though they all live in the monastery, they all have secular jobs out in the real world of Hollywood and other parts of greater LA. They are out there, trying to make their Christian lives work in the unsafe, secular, wolf-eat-wolf world. I find that very intriguing. That’s, at least, closer to what Jesus is asking us to do in these verses.
So certainly we might be asking ourselves, Why would Jesus do that? Why would Jesus nearly demand that we put ourselves as believers in harms way?
Yet, God did that with Jesus—His own Son—by plunking him down in the world. Being a Christian doesn’t automatically or magically keep you safe. Because we aren’t asked to live in a safe place. Being a Christian doesn’t give you a pass card from the horrors of the world. Instead, apparently, being a Christian puts us in the middle of a horrifying wolf pack.
Thus, learning and growing into being a Christian is not learning how to avoid the wolf pack world. Instead it is learning how to live in the midst of that wolf pack world and surviving.
How does Jesus describe this wolf pack world? What can we expect will be some of the various behaviors that will be unleashed upon us in this unsafe world?
First, Jesus said, “Some people will impugn your motives...”. In other words, people are going to attack your faith and try to get you to doubt why you believe the way you do, and why you act the way you do as followers of Jesus. They will try to get you to second guess this whole Jesus thing, and why you would ever want to be Jesus’ disciple.
So, in order to protect yourself from such wolffish attacks, you have to know what your motives are in the first place for wanting to be a disciple. You have to know why you believe what you do, and why you act the way you do. If you don’t, when the wolves attack, you won’t be able to defend yourselves. Because you won’t know yourselves.
Secondly, Jesus said the wolves will try to smear your reputation. Everyone has a reputation. It’s just a matter if it’s a good one or bad one. I guess a person can rest easy if they have a bad reputation—there’s nothing to smear that isn’t all dirty anyway.
But if you have a good reputation, that will be one of the first places the wolves will attack. Because if they can get you to trip up, and besmirch your reputation, then they’ve got you. The assumption here, in Jesus’ statement, is that you have a reputation to smear. So the best way to protect yourself is to build a great personal reputation, and work hard to keep it sparkling.
Thirdly, Jesus said the wolves will haul you before the authorities. This is doubly scary, because it says, first that the wolves have the power to do so. And secondly, and probably more scary, it says the authorities are as corrupt as the wolves. The wolves wouldn’t want to haul you before authorities who are just and fair and righteous. The wolves want to get you in front of authorities who are corrupt, who have sacrificed their sparkling reputations already, and don’t care at all for those of us who are followers of Jesus.
And fourthly, and most sad of all, the wolves may be members of our own families. There may be family members who don’t get Jesus, let alone being one of his followers. And they will do everything they can to sabotage your relationship with Jesus, and the reasons you are following Him.
Family members may feel judged by being around you, even though that’s not your intention. They want the family to be like it was before you became all religious. So they may play the part of the wolves, trying to get you to compromise your faith, so you can again become like them—for the sake of the family. Like I said, it’s hard to fathom how even our families can become a part of the unsafe, and wolffish world.
There’s a lot of howling going on out there in the world. Just having to hear that can make us timid and afraid and want to hide out somewhere. But Jesus isn’t giving us that option. Instead, Jesus is asking us to be courageous enough in our faith in him to walk out into that wolffish world, where all the howling is going on, and be his faithful sheep.