Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Galatians 5:16-26) transports me to first grade at Oakley Elementary, where Mrs. Orr has been giving a series of science lessons on the five senses. It is taste day, and she has a lot of bottles full of different tasting liquids, with little droppers in each bottle. We close our eyes, and she puts a little drop on our tongues, and we have to guess what it is. We are learning to distinguish between sweet and salty, bitter and sour, etc., and where these various tastes are experienced on our tongues. I was not doing very well; I was surprised and disappointed to learn that I didn’t have a very discerning palate; I couldn’t tell the difference between a drop of apple flavor and a drop of orange, or between vanilla and chocolate. But one flavor came through loud and clear, and caused an involuntary yucky face and gag reflex. She had given me a dreaded drop of coconut flavor. Coconut leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And if we had dealt with coconut in the other days of Mrs. Orr’s science series, I would have shared that I don’t just dislike its taste, I don’t like the way it looks, or smells, or the way it feels in my mouth. In short, I hate coconut. I know lots of folks love it, and my mom made a coconut cake that people would drool over every Sunday. But, being the baby of the family, deserving of special treatment and all, she would always make a chocolate cake just for me. My mother-in-law used to sneak coconut in cookies or candy and try to pass it off on me. I have a pretty good coconut detector, though, and one bite would produce the involuntary yuk face. Why would anyone want to ruin a good cookie or cake or piece of candy with slivers of that nasty stuff? There should be a law against it. It’s too bad there’s not, because Almond Joy really would be joyful to savor, were it not for the offending fruit.
The epistle writer was giving the church at Galatia a spiritual science series of sorts, on the various senses involved in being a person of faith. He was helping them develop discerning palates for distinguishing between bad taste and good taste in matters of spiritual life. Promiscuity, ambition, strife, binge drinking, idolatry—these are a few of the distasteful products of life lived outside the Way of Jesus. These “works of the flesh” all leave a bad taste in God’s mouth (I wonder if any vegetarians have ever noticed this). Paul tells us that you can’t mix bad taste and good taste in the Kingdom. You can’t sneak in a few slivers of sorcery or envy or dissension or debauchery in the mix of kindness and goodness and faithfulness. It is the height of irony that people pursue these distasteful practices under the illusion that they will provide the good tasting fruits of love and peace and joy. But they don’t. When people suffer and are dis-eased from lack of peace and joy in their lives, the works of the flesh are bad medicine. These fruits of the Spirit are good medicine, but they are an acquired taste—we acquire a taste for peace and joy and love through the daily practice of following the Way of Jesus. And unlike some other things that young people work to acquire a taste for, there is no law against trying out these flavors.
I’m waiting for Peter Paul to come out with an Almond Joy minus the white slivers (sometimes you feel like a nut). Or a sliver-free Mounds. Or a German Chocolate cake sans the white stuff. Until then, I’m still on the lookout whenever my mother-in-law offers me anything, except for her always gracious and sweet offerings of hospitality and loving encouragement. When it comes to those gifts, I will taste and see that the presence of the Lord in her life is indeed good.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.