And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
— Revelation 10:8-11
I had always, more or less, known intellectually what these verses were portraying: that St. John’s message was one that was sweet to his taste, as God’s Word always is to the devout soul (cf. Ps 19:10), but that that same message would stir up unpleasant emotions or reactions, even for the prophet himself. But I had never experienced it, at least that acutely, until just recently. Knowing that you have to tell someone you love something unpleasant, that they’re not holding up their end of things or not meeting the divine standard, can give a pastor a gut ache, quite bluntly. You can feel the ache in the pit of your stomach. This is the sort of thing that gives people ulcers. Some may be more prone to stomach ailments due to stress (that’s why St. Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake), but sooner or later every pastor will face that kind of a situation. When I have in the past, I’ve realized that St. John’s words aren’t just a picture. They’re the literal truth. Your gut really does churn, because you’re conflicted: you dearly love the other person (or people) in Christ, and yet you know that you must preach the law to them and not shy away. That’s part of our calling. That’s how it was for Ezekiel, who is the source of this image in Revelation (read Ezekiel chapter 3 to see). That’s how it was for St. John, who had to endure being the last apostle and being exiled for the testimony of Jesus Christ. That’s how it is for every faithful pastor, who finds out that the ache passes and the sweetness of God’s Word becomes even more precious and endearing after the bitterness of the law and the taste of death have passed. His Word is the bread of our souls, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, and it heals the ache it causes — for pastor and for people.