Well, okay, it’s got a few good lines (“That’s the sound of worms. I’d know it anywhere.”), a catchy theme song (future film scorer David Newman’s "You'll End Up Eating Worms"), and even a few cult-worthy WTF scenes (Umgar dancing ecstatically through a field of flowers with his favorite worm in his hands). But let’s face it, this is a movie entitled The Worm Eaters, and ultimately your enjoyment of it is going to hinge on whether or not you find entertainment value in watching people eat worms. Worms in cake, worms in ice cream, worms in hot dogs, worms in… well, you get the idea.
Now, having been born with my fair share of Y chromosomes, I don’t mind a bit of juvenile gross-out humor now and then. In fact, I can watch Monty Python’s vomit filled Mr. Creosote sketch time and time again and find it funnier every single time. But The Worm Eaters, with its endless extreme close ups of wide open mouths stuffed full of wiggling invertebrates just doesn’t do it for me.
Maybe that’s why, out of all the deep theological stuff in this week’s readings, my simple mind got hung up on the seemingly throwaway fact that John The Baptist liked to chow down on locusts. Why did we even need to know that? Was Matthew just taking a cheap shot and trying to make us gag before moving on to the more serious matters? Probably not. Since the book of Matthew isn’t very much of a side-splitter, it’s more likely that the reference to Mr. The Baptist’s diet was a kind of short hand meant to tell us something about the character of John.
But what? Well, besides the fact that he had a strong stomach, John’s culinary habits combined with his camel hair wardrobe lets us know he was one of the Nazarites, a sect of Jews whose lifestyle was designed to show they were set apart from others and consecrated to God. In addition to that, a number of the early Church fathers saw John’s choice of locusts as having symbolic meaning. Origen opined that John “was eating locusts because the people were being nourished by a word that traveled high aloft in the air and had not yet passed over the earth.” St. Peter Chrysologus suggested that the Baptist’s menu reflected his message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” “Locusts intended for sinners worthy of chastisement” he wrote, “are rightly considered to be food for repentance, so that bounding from the place of sin to the place of repentance the sinner may fly to heaven on the wings of forgiveness.”
Whatever the reason may be, practical or poetic, it’s nice to know the mention of John’s creepy crawly cuisine was more than just a case of Mathew trying to make us wince in disgust. I can’t really say the same for The Worm Eaters.