24 November 2006: Friday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time
Revelations 10, 8-11: Andrew Dung-Lac and companions
The first reading from the book of Revelation tells us that the visionary was told twice by God to take the scroll from the angel’s hands. It is not handed to him, even when he asks the angel to give it to him: he must take it. The picture of taking the scroll and the being commanded to eat it comes from Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3: 1, 3). The messenger of God has to take God’s message and live it.
For example, in a fruit basket, we take an apple out of the many fruits available because we want — and like — the apple. When we eat it and it is digested, the apple nourishes us; it becomes part of our bodies. We can say that we are, in fact, what we eat.
Thus, God’s word becomes part of one’s being. Taking the scroll tells us that God’s message is not forced on us; God’s invites us to be part of His life. Just as St. Paul said, “It is not I who longer lives, but Christ who lives in me.”
The taste of the scroll is sweet. In Scripture, the psalmist always refers to God’s word as sweeter than honey (Psalm 19). What is behind this imagery? Eating, honey, sweetness are culinary terms. Have you ever had alphabet soup when you were a kid? Or, alphabet cookies or biscuits? In those days, kids were taught the Hebrew alphabet. Mothers baked the letters from flour and honey and placed the alphabet on a slate. The child was asked to identify the letter and tell them its sound. If they are able to guess the letters and the sound, they are given a prize: they can eat the letter!
Back to Revelation: the visionary eats the scroll and declares its sweetness. However, it turns sour when it reaches his stomach. Meaning: it is at first sweet to be chosen as God’s messenger. But the prophet is not just chosen, he must act on God’s word. Acting on God’s word will always be met by heartaches and challenges, painful and unpleasant experiences. A prophet forecasts doom.
In life it is simple: it is sweet that we have been baptized Christians. But when we have to apply it: the sweetness turns into something unpleasant. To give feedback to a friend is unpleasant. To lobby for human rights is a long, arduous endeavor. To bring peace among friends who had a falling-out is not a nice thing to do. But we all know that we are willing to undergo this painful tasks, because it is rooted in our love and concern for our neighbors.
By understanding the imagery and the symbolism in the book of Revelation, we are able to see why in the time of its writing it has inspired many martyrs during the Roman persecution of Christians. And we see now, that the book of Revelation is not something to be frightened about — like horror movies who take Revelation as its theme. The book of Revelation teaches us in a very deep way the Christian life and its aspirations.