Our first reading comes from the middle of the Book of Revelations. Since the whole book has a dreamlike vagueness about its imagery, it is hard to outline its contents. However, we can see this passage from Chapter Ten as its central turning point. The first part of the book gave us the Lord’s messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor, while the remainder of the work looks to the future. It will foretell the downfall of the old earth and the descent of a new earth from heaven.
Today’s passage describes John’s commissioning as a prophet.
The old Hebrew word for a prophet was Nabi, which originally had been a child’s word for a mouth. The Israelites saw a prophet as a man who lets God use his mouth to say what he wants to say to mankind.
Here God’s message to mankind comes as a small scroll that the prophet must eat so that he might later mouth it to the world. To be chosen for the role of God’s prophet is at first an honor for John, so the scroll is sweet to his mouth; but because it will oblige him to prophesy doom to evil nations, it will be bitter to his stomach.