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Snakes, Scorpions, and the Spirit


Sermon shared by Joseph Smith

May 1997
Summary: Jesus’ parable helps parents distinguish between the needs and the wants of their children, and teaches us how to invest attention in them.
Denomination: Baptist
Audience: General adults
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of maybe rides on the water flumes and spins in the bumper cars. When we told them we were going to see a bunch of trees and shrubs, well, you can imagine the objections, the grumbling and the pouting. Until, that is, we actually got there. And when we let those kids out of the car in the midst of all that color, all of God’s creative glory, they ran into the woods, shouting for sheer joy, and I thought we never would get them home again!

You see, children will respond to something real, given half a chance. Children really do want fish and not snakes, they really do want something nourishing and not something worthless.

Jesus asked, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?” Let’s be very sure, on this Mother’s Day, that we who parent and we who grandparent and we who are responsible adults provide wholesome things for the mind and the spirit, fish, and leave out the slimy snakes.
But Jesus takes His questions a step further. The issue gets even deeper as He continues to ask what we really want to do for our children? It’s not only fish versus snakes, the nourishing versus the worthless. It’s something deeper as well.

“Is there anyone among you who, ...... if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?” An egg or a scorpion? Again, the answer seems obvious. But maybe it isn’t.

From earliest times eggs have been the symbols of life. The reason is obvious. Everybody is fascinated by watching eggs hatch. That’s why eggs are used at Easter; symbols of life. But scorpions are among the most poisonous and dangerous of creatures. Some varieties of scorpions inject a venom that can cause a very painful, agonizing death within minutes. Eggs and scorpions, powerful contrast between life and death. Jesus is asking, which parent, which adult, if a child asks for life, would deal in death?

Is the answer obvious again? It is not. Sadly, the answer is all too often: death. An eleven-year-old boy has his chest crushed because he couldn’t tell time correctly. Two sisters were buried yesterday because someone just took them and wasted them. On and on it goes in our culture of violence. There are some who, very directly, will give children scorpions instead of eggs, death instead of life.

But I am moved to push Jesus’ question a little harder. Are some of us also offering children death instead of life? What is the message we are sending when drugs and alcohol pass into our bodies, in plain view; how weak is our warning to young people, “Not for you”? What is the message we are sending when we are cavalier about advertising tobacco and other harmful things? Come on, America, is “Joe Camel” really the best image we can provide for our children?

I know all this sounds very conservative and out of fashion; well, so be it. I have a Methodist pastor friend just down the street here who has formed a group, the ‘Cause Children Count Coalition. He and the coalition are doing everything they can to push back the purveyors of death, because he himself almost died from these abuses. They say he’s an extremist. May I suggest that where life and death are concerned, we need extremists? Martin Luther King was once accused of being an extremist for civil rights, and he responded that yes, he was, just as Gandhi was an extremist for peace and
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