Religion Column : Locusts

Published 7:00 am Saturday, October 20, 2018

By Fr. Jonathan Filkins

The Holy Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, regularly relates stories about pestilence, plagues and other onerous onslaughts of our world. From rivers turning to blood, billions upon billions of flies, innumerable invading amphibians and the deaths of the Gentile first-born, we hear of the words of Moses to Pharaoh, and the attributed acts of God, when these words were not heeded.

We, seemingly naturally, have an especially genuine distaste towards the “creepy crawlies” of the natural order. Certainly, much mental exertion has been spent on the burning question, “Why are there mosquitoes?” Given the oft named pest as the source for spreading malaria, dengue fever and other maladies, it is difficult to sing the praises of the pest; even if our own experience is only on a late evening attempt to sit unmolested on the porch swing.

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From our early childhood days, we have heard, and many have experienced the presence of grasshoppers, or locusts. Lacking the “cuteness” of ladybugs and possessing wings and huge jumping legs, their appearance ranks low on the scale of what we consider attractive. Add to this image the propensity to gather in great numbers and then collectively swarm by the billions into food crops, their reputation is one of dread, alarm and anger.

We can well understand how this became one the plagues of Egypt and continues to be a menace for us today.

In the First Chapter of the Gospel of Saint Mark, we find an early telling of the last Prophet, John the Baptist. It is not a particularly flattering image. Even a casual observer will immediately recognize him as being quite different than those in regular society. Where cleanliness and order were revered, John the Baptist was not.

Clothed in “camel’s hair and a girdle of skin about his loins” he was hardly an image of refinement. Coming out of the wilderness, some may have thought he was unbalanced and simply “crazy.” It does not help his image to hear about John eating wild honey and locusts.

We can deal with the image of wild honey; even with the thought of a few bee parts mixed in. But, locusts are where we have to draw the line. Ewww! How can anyone be so gross? Yuk, this ingestion of this scabrous pest.

Yes, this is what the Scripture says. Yet, like much of what is written, it carries a deeper message than what we see on the page. The “locusts” are not insects at all. The reference here is to the locust bean; a protein rich pod which readily grows in the desert climates. While the initial reaction may have been one of disgust, our renewed understanding aids us in the pursuit of the truth.

When asked if he was the messiah, he made it quite clear that he was not; but said “there comes one greater than I after me.” As John the Baptist foretold and, as promised by God, Jesus the Christ soon began His ministry.

We can only glean a brief sense of what the deeper reaction was to the Messiah. Clearly, Jesus was as different from the mainstream as His cousin John. Either, Jesus was a madman with the ability to fool many people, or He is the Son of God. Of course, we know of the ultimate end, by His passion, and what the larger society believed at that moment.

What we eat and digest in our spiritual lives is very much dependent upon our understanding of what our Lord seeks from and for us.  If we believe that we are to eat bugs, when He calls us to eat strong nourishment, then it is we who must change our understanding.