October 20, 2011

The Locust Eaters

Posted in Atonement, Golden Calf, Original Sin, Redeemer, The Eucharist at 5:20 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The deadly fruit hung glistening on the tree,
So tempting that our mother reached aloft
To pluck and eat the curse of earth and sea.

The curse of locusts smothered Pharaoh’s land
Devouring all of Egypt’s nourishing grain.
But those who ate the lamb stayed death’s dark hand.

While Moses talked with God, the children played.
And so, displeased with their ingratitude,
God made them eat the golden calf they made.

Then, dressed in death of camels and of kine,
The Baptist came announcing kingdom come,
And on the curséd locust he did dine.

He preached repentance and the healing dew
Of sins forgiven by the Lamb of God,
The curse washed clean, and earth and sea made new.

Twice cursed the Lamb who hung upon a tree
To bear the shame of sin that’s not His own,
To make twice blessed those whom His death sets free.

Their food the Body and the Blood divine.
They take and eat the heaven-sent meal:
Not curséd locusts, but His bread and wine.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

Until I began posting these poems and writing about them I hadn’t realized how many panoramas I had written and how much I had repeated certain Scriptural themes. I do realize that events other than the Fall, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection have occurred. But some of the books of the Bible lend themselves better to poetry than others (Numbers, for example, is not my favorite poetry fodder).

Consuming the Fruit: The first verse is another reference to the Fall as recorded in Genesis 3. The word aloft was carefully chosen. As I mused on the fact that Eve would probably have had to reach up into the tree to pluck the fruit, I realized that her physical act mirrored the spriritual act of reaching higher than she should, as she longed to be as God rather than merely made in the image of God. I always find it sobering to remember that our first parents’ sin affected all the earth.

Consuming the Lamb: The second verse fast forwards to Exodus 10, the plague of locusts here serving as a synecdoche for all the plagues, none of which were visited upon those who were under the protection of the Lamb. The locusts as a curse ate up all the crops in Egypt, yet eating the Passover lamb was the antidote. So a pattern of eating and curses begins to emerge.

Consuming the Golden Calf: In one of the most inscrutable passages ever, Moses gets really angry with the children of Israel for not keeping faith while he went up on the mountain to get the law, so he ground up the golden calf, sprinkled it over water, and made them drink it. There is also the curious cereemony described in Numbers 5 by which an accused adultress could prove her guilt or innocence by drinking water sprinkled with dust from the floor of the tabernacle. If guilty, she knew she was drinking her own judgment.

Consuming Locusts: In Matthew 3, we read that John Baptist breaks onto the solemn Jerusalem landscape eating locusts and wild honey. Of course, this statement raises eyebrows and sends scholars scurrying to find out whether locusts were on the “clean food” list for the Israelites. Some have conjectured that he was actually eating locust bean, or carob. But one thing we know: the Scriptures do not give any unimportant details, so the symbolism of eating (or triumphing over) the evil devourer that had been a sign of the curse against Egypt, and eating this food along with the honey that represents the gifts of the Promised Land, makes a powerful connection. John Baptist, the last Old Testament prophet and herald of the Kingdom, straddled that period of time between Malachi (which tells of his coming as the messenger and ends with the word “curse”) and Matthew, when he declared Jesus Christ to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Consuming the Lamb of God: The final image of the Eucharist pulls all the shadows together. The fruit that hung glistening from the tree in the first verse is connected irrevocably with the perfect Son of God who was crucified. He who knew no sin became accursed for our sakes and died on a tree. Again, that detail is no accident; hanging from a tree was a curse, according to the law (Deuteronomy 21:22; Galatians 3:13). But his resurrection unraveled the curse against those who would look to Him and live. Now, in both comparison and contrast to the manna He provided to sustain the children of Israel in the wilderness, He gives us His own body and blood as the heaven-sent Eucharistic feast to sustain our lives in His Kingdom.

This is one of the few poems that I haven’t adjusted since writing it. My notes show that I completed it on January 14, 2007 (a seminary year), and I didn’t change anything when posting it today. It still seemed to say exactly what it needed to say.

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