It may seem like a bit of a cheap shot. In my sermon yesterday on Matthew 3:1-12, I got a huge laugh when I said that John the Baptist’s dire warning to “Repent!’ would have been especially terrifying as he shoved his face into the fancy-schmancy big city crowd and said it with unkempt hair flowing, clumps of wild honey in his beard, and bits of locust between his teeth.
My follow-up line got as huge a laugh. “After all, you can bet out there in the wilderness a roll of floss is probably hard to come by!”
It is a funny image and situation in its own right. The Matthew text notes that John's diet (as he preached repentance out in the harsh Judean wilderness) was "locusts and wild honey." And to Western hearers at least, locusts are ridiculously contrary to what would begin to be considered a diet staple.
In many parts of the world, however - Africa, Asia and the Middle East - locusts are (apparently!) considered a delicacy and eaten in abundance. They are a great source of protein and certain fatty acids and minerals. Plus, of course, they are often a more-than available food source.
Locusts are permitted for consumption in Jewish levitical law, along with crickets, grasshoppers and katydids. (The latter seem to have been added only to the NIV, so there could be a potential controversy a-brewing here, as it were….)
And there are some interesting locust recipes to be found out there on the great electronic information superhighway.
Here is one that is especially rich in every way, from the gourmet language used, to the gourmet ingredients suggested, to the inclusion of ants.
While we may find all this locust-eating information funny in a "culturally confused" sort of way, what makes it especially humorous is the fact that these insects should be fully intertwined into our otherwise completely sugar-plum dandy holiday food fare.
Whether we like it or not, locusts and wild honey are just about the only two foods specifically mentioned in our traditional Advent/Christmas scriptures. Of course they are probably singled out in the text for any number of significant, and non-humorous, reasons. For example, perhaps mentioning John's diet was to emphasize the fact that someone who would have to eat such things is preaching far from organized society and the perversions of the unjust status quo — out there in the land beyond the boonies John can really let the people and the powers-that-be have it. Perhaps the aim is to send the message that John is the new Ezekiel (who also was known to live and prophesy out in the wilds and feed on weird wilderness food). Perhaps the purpose is to reinforce the fact that John is a wild-man pure and simple and what the One after him brings - baptism with fire and Holy Spirit - is going to be even wilder so hold onto your hats, folks! These are some possible explanations off the top of my noggin, anyway.
Regardless, wouldn’t it thus be stunning to include locusts as part of the “holiday table”??
After all, we have candy canes representing the shepherds, plum pudding representing Jesus and the 12 disciples (because p.p. apparently requires 13 ingredients), Christmas cookies decorated with religious themes...
...and, of course, Divinity.
Why not locusts??? Imagine the conversation starters you avail guests at your next holiday Open House when these are on the serving tray!
Or something like this!
For the especially busy hostess, there are always pre-made locust treats available for purchase.
Maybe that's the ultimate reason one should include a nod to John the Baptist's infamous diet at the holiday table: it spurs conversation when talking with one another is proving difficult. Like this Christmas season, where there is more anxiety than usual that get-togethers will ignite into heated arguments, political and otherwise.
Break down the walls that divide by serving a locust-something that will put everyone on the same page! Whether those walls come down through laughter, or repentance, or both!