This week’s lectionary, unusually, did not inspire me, particularly as I was captivated by watching some wasps building a nest. The big queen had found the hole in March, in that spell of fine weather, and had spent the spring building the first few cells in which to lay her first eggs, which then hatch and pupate. She made these cells from paper produced from chewed wood. How clever! As the eggs, about 200 every day, begin to hatch, the queen lost the ability to fly and now spends the rest of her life (that will finish in October) in situ. The worker bees gradually enlarged the nest and brought food back for the queen and for the little wasps. Right now, the workers are flying into the hole carrying food and returning out of the hole carrying bits of stuff that are getting in the way of expansion. The whole colony will collapse in the autumn, when the new queens fly off to hibernate somewhere.
The whole colony is a cooperative with jobs split up between different groups of wasps (see 1 Corinthians 12:12) which have different functions. Some have just one job, to build cells for eggs; or to fly out to collect food; or to defend the nest; some are nursemaids. Some spend their whole lives doing the one job. Retirement? No way! They keep working until they drop. You never stop being a worker wasp (or a Christian for that matter). Even if the job seems rather insignificant and you never get to see the finished product, you keep on with the work allocated.
Well, wasps have tiny brains, but their system works well, with no one thinking too much about it, just as they have done for millions of years. A planet full of wasps wouldn’t be very good; their success depends on them being one of very many species: animals such as ants, flies, dung beetles, horses, cows, chickens, and, of course, us. They depend on even more plant species being available.
So, how are we different? We are intelligent beings, and a fine mess that has got us into! The New Testament tells us that we have available to us the Holy Spirit of God to help us interpret life and to inform our choices. Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would replace Him and be their guide and friend as they took over from Him. So, the work we do as Christians does not have to be the same throughout our lives but, in the same way as wasps, it is only a small part of building, maintaining, and expanding the work of spreading God’s love abroad. Like Jesus, but unlike wasps, we know that we will die one day and leave the work to others. We will not see it completed, nor even always understand how our bit contributes to the whole.
Sometimes the difficult bits are recognising the value of the different contribution that others make and realising that we have to hand on to the next generation. If we think back through the history of the church, we see that it failed to follow the guidance of the Spirit on many occasions. Our history is marked by error and mistake, as well as by heroism and sainthood, love and cruelty. The Church has produced some horrible institutions and some lovely ones. It has been responsible for opposing scientific advance, and for promoting it. Prayer and reflection enable us to keep in touch with the Holy Spirit and to keep on the right track. Keep checking!