One of them went out to the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine and picked as many of its gourds as his garment could hold. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were. The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “Man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. (2 Kings 4:39-40)
Elisha is meeting with the company of the prophets at Gilgal, when they get hungry. He asks his servant to prepare a stew. Presumably, he gets started while another servant goes out to look for some herbs to put in the stew. Instead, he finds some gourds in the fields. He doesn’t know what they are, but still decides to put them in the stew. As everyone begins eating the stew, they call out that there is ‘death in the pot.’ The stew that had been meant to nourish them was filled with death.
What struck me about this short scene was that the servant put the gourds in, ‘though no one knew what they were.’ Without full knowledge of the effects of ingesting these gourds, he puts them in the stew. The result is almost disastrous.
I wondered how often we do this in our own lives. How often do we try to make ‘stone soup religion’ by tossing in all sorts of ingredients from wild vines, ‘though no one knows what they are.’ How often, through ignorance, do we find ourselves ingesting food – beliefs, practices, habits, words – that can be incredibly harmful for us. I’m thinking less about having too much fat or sugar in our diet, and more about the aspects of our wider culture that we ingest without considering what it truly is and whether it might nourish or harm us. There is much in our world that is nourishing to our souls, but there is also much that is harmful.
How do we know if we have life or death in the pot?
Only if we have a steady diet of God’s word, will we be able to know what brings life and what brings death. Only by drinking the milk, eating the meat, receiving the manna, and tasting the sweetness of God’s word (all biblical metaphors), will we know if there is life or death in the pot. The company of prophets, who had lived daily on the word of God, knew immediately that something was wrong with the stew. They spit it out, called foul, and refused to eat any more. We are called to develop our taste buds by regularly eating the book God has given us. Only then will we easily know what is sweet and what is rancid in the world.
What is in your pot?