Locusts for tea anyone?

I went shopping the other week – not a regular pastime, I am bound to say – and happened across a toy shop. Well, I say toy shop but it had as many gadgets and gimmicks as actual toys. We were looking for small pocket-money toys that would suit a young child (they were to go to a children’s charity) but also browsed round the shop. To my surprise (in the “joke” section) I found that they were selling boxes with things like dried mealworms and sugar-coated crickets. The idea was to dare people to eat them – or to trick them into eating them, I suppose. Yes, insects! How gross, I thought; and then I thought, this could be a handy visual aid for talking about John the Baptist (crickets resemble locusts, which he ate). After all, there have been articles recently suggesting that insects are a good source of protein and we could help reduce any global food shortage by eating them. Whatever the wisdom of eating insects, I am a bit too squeamish to do so and in the end I did not buy any of them.

Why, then, did John the Baptist eat honey and locusts? Was it a special diet to show his separation from the rest of society? Was it to “mortify the flesh” – that is, to do something physically unpleasant as a self-discipline? It occurs to me that it might have been simpler and more profound than that. John the Baptist was eating off the land, relying on what he could find and trusting God that he would not grow hungry. He did not have the time to be a farmer and produce food; nor was he in any kind of paid work which could have bought him food. He was totally dedicated to the task given him by God. He did not go hungry, so far as we can tell, but neither did he let any luxury get in the way of what he was called to do.

And that task was to urge people to turn, to return, to God; to live lives worthy of God’s children. His work prepared the way for Jesus when he appeared later.

I do not think God wants us to deliberately hurt our bodies; but I am aware that luxury and comfort can be a great distraction from getting on with the tasks that God has called us to do, whatever they may be. I do not want to eat locusts but there is something to be said for taking a leaf out of John the Baptist’s book, from time to time, eating simply and not having too many large Christmas meals, for example.

A prayer for the third Sunday of Advent

God for whom we watch and wait, you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son. Give us courage to speak the truth, to hunger for justice, and to suffer for the cause of right, with Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect: Advent 3)