Normally, when one has a wolf problem, one does not send out sheep to defeat the wolves. Common sense would suggest that by doing so, all one does is feed the wolves. And yet, this is exactly the image that Jesus uses in indicating the way he intends to conquer the forces of evil: he will send out sheep (wolf-food!) out to defeat the wolves. And the apostles—and by extension Christians—are the sheep who are sent out.
Now, if sheep really do defeat wolves, then it is evident that the wolves are defeated not by any inherent quality of the sheep, but rather by the power of the God who sends them out to defeat the forces of evil. It is striking that God does not give his servants any of the natural means by which one would think of defeating the wolves. The sheep do not get claws. Likewise, the apostles get no protection from persecution or imprisonment; in fact, persecution and imprisonment are even promised to them! What they are promised is defeat, if one sees through the eyes of their enemies. However, this seeming defeat is, in fact, victory, since God was never interested in playing the silly manipulative games of power, prestige, and wealth that the enemy plays. The enemy cannot comprehend love, true love, sacrificial love (the enemy does not understand genuine, self-less sacrifice). So the enemy thinks that he has won when he kills God’s Son on the cross, but the Son has truly won, for his love has never faltered in the face of all the sin and hatred of the world, and that love will conquer the whole world and win over all those whom he calls to himself.
Kateri Tekakwitha, the lily of the Mohawks, walked among those who persecuted her as a sheep among wolves, exemplifying the lessons of today’s gospel (Mt 10:16-23). As an orphan girl, disfigured and near-sighted by small pox, she felt a stirring towards virginal purity that was incomprehensible in her milieu. She sought baptism and consecrated herself to Christ in spite of the opposition and hardship that she received from her own family and people. She “did not worry about how she was to speak” (Mt 10:19) but was “shrewd as a serpent and simple as a dove” (Mt 10:16). She did not play the hero, but more courageously, she was a true handmaid of the Lord, for even as she was “hated by all because of His name” (Mt 10:22), “when they persecuted her in one town, she fled to another” (Mt 10:23) thus bringing the gospel witness of true life and freedom to many people who encountered Christ for the first time in and through her. Let us turn to Kateri to help us to be such handmaids and servants of the Lord ourselves, out of love for Him and for those people who persecute us, for they are the ones for whom he gave up his life, and for whom we are called to give ours.