Matt. 10:28† ďDo not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.Ē
I stepped out the door to walk the dog and saw the cat sitting nearby, staring intently at the grass.† A paw went out to swat something I couldnít see, and then the cat settled down to be sure his victim didnít go anywhere.† Not sure what it was but pretty sure the standoff would have an unpleasant end for either cat or creature, I went over to see.† A forked tongue darted out.† It was a snake.
There was a time when I would have run back into the house and not come out for weeks.† In earlier years I couldnít even look at a photograph of a snake, let alone a real, slithering one.† But that was before I lived in Florida.† In Florida there were snakes that could actually kill me.† Coral snakes, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths.† When I learned that rattlesnakes wouldnít move into the territory of a black snake, I learned to accept the harmless black snake, even though they could be humongous and very scary looking.† After living in a place where the tiny coral snake could end my life if I stepped in the wrong spot, the larger but quite innocent garter snake actually became a relief to see.
What the cat was holding hostage was a young garter snakeómaybe a foot long at best.† He knew that if he moved, the cat would pounce.† The cat knew that he knew and thus lay down quite contentedly to wait him out.† I put the dog back inside, went over and scooped up the cat, apologized to the snake, and allowed everyone to go about their business.† I wasnít the slightest bit concerned, except for the welfare of both snake and cat.
When the snake had a chance to escape and I finally got around to the walk, I thought about the shift in my fears, and it seemed that my experience with snakes bore out the witness of Jesus in Matthewís Gospel.† Sometimes we fear the wrong things.† We think we are facing the greatest evil when in fact there is something so much worse that our prior fears vanish in its shadow.†
We tend to see the loss of biological life as the worst that can befall us.† We allow ourselves to be so terrorized by terminal illnesses and people who threaten to kill us that sometimes we sell out our souls for protection.† We sanction torture; we push medical procedures that sometimes force people to live in hell rather than let them die in peace; we kill others so they wonít kill us.† And we donít notice the shriveling of our souls.
Of course all life is a precious gift of God, and Iím not trying to say that biological life isnít important or that itís ending isnít often tragic.† God took on human flesh in Jesus in part to show that bodies are sacred and not, if youíll pardon the pun, immaterial.† But Jesus reminds us that we are more than our bodies and that the true prize of our soul is what we should bend over backwards to protect.† The early martyrs died horrible deaths with a prayer on their lips because they knew that their souls were safe with God.† What might our lives look like, both individually and nationally, if we were less concerned with the security of our bodies and more concerned with the health of our souls?
Maybe now that we are experiencing the metaphorical land of poisonous snakes we will learn what truly threatens us and leave the garter snakes alone.
Give us wisdom, Lord, to distinguish what is truly harmful. Amen.
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