March 10, 2015

"Locusts and wild honey"

Such was the diet of John the Baptist (Mark 1:6 and Matthew 3:4) as he preached in the wilderness in the days leading up to the coming of Christ – “locusts and wild honey”!

Wait … whaaat? “Locusts and wild honey”? Why that?

Well, the commentators William Hendriksen and R.T. France inform us that, if you were going to live in the Ancient Near Eastern wilderness, this was the sort of culinary fare that would be available to you! Evidently pastas and pestos were not on the desert menu! But “locusts and wild honey” could be gathered here and there. And so John, needing to eat, scared up what vittles he could find!

But why was John out in the wilderness – and thus limited to such a diet – in the first place? Well, John, having come in the prophetic tradition of Elijah, was necessarily roughhewn. He had not been sent to deliver fine speeches in royal courts … but to preach against sin! And his rough clothing and wilderness diet were symbolic of that calling.

And then the great commentator William Hendriksen makes this observation about John the Baptist as well:
By means of his simple mode of life, evident with respect to both his food and his clothing, he was a living protest against all selfishness and self-indulgence, hence also against that frivolousness, carelessness, and false security with which many people were rushing toward their doom. (New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark, pp.39-40).
And that is probably the bottom line of John’s dietary habits. They were meant as a silent sermon against the sins of his day. And our lives ought also – in various ways – to be the same.

But as I read, this week, about John’s wilderness menu … it also occurred to me that the simplicity with which he chose to live might also have been quite a help to his own sanctification. The biblical writers don’t, of course, say that this is why John did what he did. But as I think about my own life … and then look at John’s … it occurs to me how many things he probably didn’t have to worry about, living as simply as he did. Life was simpler back then to begin with! But, by choosing to live even more simply than the norm, John perhaps was even more able to “set [his] mind on things above”. By uncluttering his life, perhaps John was able also to unclutter his soul.

Now again, I do not argue that this was John’s primary goal … or even that this was necessarily on his mind at all as he went out into the wilderness. He seems to have gone out there for the sake of others, not himself. But I can’t help but think that the “locusts and wild honey”, and the simple lifestyle that they represent, were perhaps good for John as well. And, even if he didn’t need the help … I can’t help but think that a little more John-like simplicity would be good for you and me!

Am I arguing that we all need to become ascetics, living in monasteries, and eating only bread and water? Absolutely not! John was called to a very unique ministry at a very unique time. And neither of the biblical Testaments require such a lifestyle of the bulk of God’s people. In fact, the New Testament has a lot to say about feasting!

But what if we were even just a little more like John? What if we disentangled ourselves from some commitments, and gadgets, and habits that only serve to make us more distracted, more tired, more nerve-wracked … and which decrease our attention spans, and our ability to be generous, and our desire for the word of God? What if some of us simplified our digital intake the way John simplified his diet? And what if we cleared our schedules so as not to be spending 5-6 evenings a week going to this meeting, and that extra-curricular, and so on? What if we streamlined our spending and cut out some of the waste? What, in other words, if our personal devotions were not rushed through before jetting off to work, or slept through because we tried to cram them in at the end of a too-busy day? What if we had time to eat our meals together as families, and to engage in meaningful (rather than hurried) family devotions? What if we had time to read good books, and even, frankly, to get a little more sleep? What if we had just a little more of a “locusts and wild honey” lifestyle?

Again, I’m not saying we must all go the way of John, wholesale. I don’t believe God calls most of us to do so! Nor am I ignorant of the fact that some levels of busy-ness simply cannot be avoided. There are seasons in life when the best we can do is just hang on, and perhaps listen to the scriptures on our phones as we drive to work. But let’s not settle for that as the long-term norm! Let’s streamline our lives a little bit more – eat a little more “locusts and wild honey”, as it were – and make room for that which is most important.

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