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In heaven the moths do not destroy

The heads of cloth moths (Tinea pellionella) are usually covered with hairs, they have a short proboscis, long antennae and maxillary palps.

ZOE AUTOR 102/Antonio_Cruz 26 DE SEPTIEMBRE DE 2021 11:00 h
A moth. Photo: Antonio Cruz.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

(Mt. 6:19-21)

The word “moth” occurs in the Bible more than ten times, both in the old and new testaments, and always with reference to the insect which destroys fabrics and clothing. There are two Hebrew words for moths: one is ash, (Job 4:19) and the other is sas¸ (Isaiah 51:8). The meaning of the first is uncertain as it could also refer to woodworm, while the second clearly refers to the moth that feeds on cloth The second term is translated into Septuagint Greek as ses, the moth referred to in Matthew 6:19-20 and Luke 12:33, and into Vulgate Latin as tinea, with the same meaning.

The different verses in the Bible referring to this little nocturnal butterfly, so destructive for the cloth we humans use, indicate certain characteristic features which we associate with moths. For example, they are said to “eat garments” (Job 13:28; Isaiah 51:8; Luke 12:33) and build a very fragile dwelling (Job 27:18), which is in fact a sheath made of silk, textile fibres and soft materials from their surroundings; they set about destroying objects which humans consider valuable (Psalm 39:11; James 5:2), which is why Jesus advises his hearers to store up treasure in heaven, where they are inaccessible to moths and vermin (Matthew 6:19-20); thus these insects cause garments to age (Isaiah 50:9) and God himself can act like “a moth amidst his people” (Hosea 5:14). In ancient times the moth was seen as a symbol of ruin and destruction (Psalm 39:11).

Cloth moths are nocturnal lepidopterous insects, that is to say, they are small butterfly-like insects whose larvae devour cloth, though there are moths which consume stored food (flour, potatoes, grapes or apples), and there are even some which eat paper. The heads of cloth moths (Tinea pellionella) are usually covered with hairs, they have a short proboscis, long antennae and maxillary palps. They have large black eyes, while their wings are ochre colours with brown spots. The caterpillar moves protected inside a kind of tube or sheath made of materials collected from the surroundings, such as woollen fibres, silk, etc. They are usually 11 to 19 millimetres long, the female being longer than the male.

This species is present in every country in the world and has accompanied humankind since the beginning. Therefore, they are typically found in settings where humans are present (houses, stores, stables, factories etc.) Derelict, unhygienic dwellings can be plagued with them. They breed throughout the year, as the temperature inside human residences is conducive to continuous biological cycles. The female attracts males by means of sexual pheromones which constitute aromatic aerial pathways.

The text in Matthew at the top of this article presents the challenge of making decisions about the meaning and value of life. In a materialistic society like ours, we can all too easily fall into the trap of accumulating much more than we need to live.

We are constantly bombarded with messages about all the objects that will, supposedly, make for a happier existence if only we can acquire them. But this turns out to be a neverending quest, as no sooner have we obtained our quarry than something even better insistently presents itself to our senses.

The Lord Jesus issued a warning against this trap two millennia ago. It is foolish to fall into it because every unnecessary object that we acquire on earth is perishable and sooner or later will be gone forever, just as the moth eats its way through a costly garment. Besides, accumulating material goods can compromise our loyalty to the Lord, and also give rise to all kinds of anxiety. By contrast, if our treasure is not material it will never perish, it will strengthen our loyalty to God and will free us from every kind of emotional tension resulting from material loss. What is beyond all doubt is that wherever our treasure is stored, that is where our heart will also be.





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