(Quaker-specific musings are now on my new blog.)
In the book of Ezekiel, God instructs the prophet to tell the rebellious Israelites to behave themselves. I like the part where God reassures Ezekiel that he is only responsible for speaking God’s words, but not for making the tribe hear them. As preparation for prophesying, Ezekiel is told to eat a scroll. The scroll has writing on both sides, words of “lamentation and mourning and woe”, and God tells Ezekiel to fill his stomach with it. As the story unfolds, we hear how Ezekiel eats the scroll and even what the scroll tastes like.
I was sure as I read it, that lamentation, mourning and woe would taste bitter. After all, the Hebrew Bible is full of descriptions of the bitter taste of suffering. Part of the Passover meal consists of eating bitter herbs as a reminder of the Israelites’ experience of slavery. Even the name of Jesus’ mother, Mary or Maryam, means “bitter herb”.
Yet Ezekiel says “in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.”
How can it be that the scroll with words of lamentation, mourning, and woe taste as sweet as honey in Ezekiel’s mouth?
These words only make sense to me if they are about the sweet taste I have known in my soul when I knew I was being faithful to God. It was “easy” to sell my condo in Oslo, Norway, and move 5,000 miles away from my friends and family in Norway to go to a Quaker seminary in Indiana back in 1992 because I knew God wanted me to do it. The times when changes have been hard were when I didn’t know what God wanted me to do and I moved forward anyway. With the benefit of hindsight, I can also recognize several situations when it was hard for me to do seemingly simple things. It was hard because I was going against God’s desire for me, and I ended up in situations where I was initially harmed.
These words of Ezekiel also help explain why I feel fulfilled doing chaplaincy. I can’t help but grieve and be affected when I am with someone who is suffering. Yet because I am where God wants me to be, the taste in my mouth at the end of the day is, nonetheless, sweet as honey. This is what we can expect when we have discerned God’s will and follow it, even when we are in the midst of lamentation, mourning, and woe. This can include the times when we ourselves are the ones who are lamenting, mourning, and full of woe. Nelson Mandela, losing normal adult life to serve 27 years of hard labor in prison, emerged as a man who knows the taste of honey. I believe that Jesus, even when he went to his painful death, had the sweet taste of honey in his soul.
Query for prayerful consideration:
When has “lamentation, mourning, and woe” tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth?