Yoder-Short: Wolves in disguise

Mar 9, 2020 by

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As a child, one of the first big words I learned was prevaricator. My mom used it in reference to a person she felt couldn’t be trusted. Knowing the word prevaricator was a real plus for a third-grader.

Jane Yoder-Short


Knowing the word is easier than spotting a prevaricator. Smooth-talking manipulators can be hard to recognize. Detecting the world’s baloney is tricky.

In today’s world of social media, the problem of sorting out truth can be overwhelming. But truth-sorting is nothing new. Followers of Jesus have always had to stay alert. Jesus warns the disciples, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Wolves are sneaky, terrifying predators. Wolves in sheep’s clothing can trick us.

Jesus sent his disciples “out like sheep into the midst of wolves” (Matt. 10:16). This doesn’t create a positive picture of society. Society treats disciples like prey, like sheep to be devoured. This is how Jesus was treated.

Today, Christians can become powerful political celebrities. When society starts cheering us on, should we ask whether we are backing a bogus sheep? When society offers us power, should we ask whether we are following a wolf?

Jesus told the disciples they needed to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. This sounds contradictory. What does it mean to be both a serpent and a dove, both shrewd and gentle?

Being wise as serpents entails sorting out prevarication from truth, baloney from reality. Recently I saw a Baloney Detection poster, created and used by high school science students. It uses the symbolism of making a baloney sandwich for thinking about the legitimacy of claims.

Spread on mustard: Ask about the reliability of the source. Put on mayonnaise: Find out what else your source is saying. Add salt: Check who holds the same position. Add onions: See who disagrees with the statement.

Some parts are more applicable to wise Jesus snakes than others. Some things are missing. Let’s add pickles and think about how this fits with our understanding of Jesus. Let’s add lettuce and find a bunch in our congregation to talk it over with. Could making a baloney sandwich help us become better snakes?

Jesus also wants disciples to be gentle as doves. When someone is seen as a prevaricator, we are not to respond like wolves and attack them. We are to have dove-like gentleness and humility. It’s easy to become wolves, to lash out and growl at those who disagree with us.

How do we deal gently and wisely with differences? We all have biases. One person’s wolf is another person’s God-chosen leader. We have our own ideas of which slick sheep are really wolves. If someone is saying things we agree with, it’s easy to see them as a good truth-speaking sheep. When someone challenges our thinking, it’s easy to see them as a prevaricating wolf. Truth gets blurred with opinion.

Truth can depend on group identity. Are we identifying too closely with our nationality? With a political party? With a doctrinal alliance?

Is our primary identification with the Jesus family?

The Jesus family is wise enough to look for fruits and not be taken in by empty words. The Jesus family hears the views of the weak and marginalized.

Let’s keep making baloney-detecting sandwiches. Let’s be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. Let’s help each other recognize wolves dressed like sheep.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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