Aloe can be poisonous

Bible Reference: John 19.38-42.

When I contemplated writing about the aloe plant, I felt warm and comfortable because it is such a familiar plant. Since getting my first job, I’ve kept an aloe plant on the porch in summer and in front of a sunny window in winter. If I burned a finger when cooking or burned my forehead when using my curling iron, I rubbed aloe gel on the burn to take away the sting. Only recently, did I learn that aloe had a poisonous component.

In the Old Testament, aloe (called agarwood) developed from a fungal infection in the eaglewood tree. Agarwood was cut in small pieces and used as a perfume. In the New Testament, most likely the source of aloe was  different than Old Testament agarwood.

After Jesus died by crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped his body in stripes of linen and seventy-five pounds of mixed aloe and myrrh. Jews used myrrh to cover the smell of the decaying body.  Scholars suggested that because aloes have little odor, aloes were used to “fix,” or hold the scent of myrrh. Aloe gel is moist and slightly sticky. Perhaps, aloe gel “fixed” myrrh crystals in linen cloths and held cloths together and to the deceased’s body.

The New Testament aloe is Aloe vera (A. barbadensis, A. vulgaris, and medicinal aloe). A. vera is a perennial in Israel; however, in my area of the Appalachian Mountains it grows as an annual. When A. vera  is harvested for its medicinal gel, older leaves are harvested because they contain more gel.  The out layers of the leaf feels rubbery and have soft spines on edges.

Aloe has been used in medicine for 3500 years. The first detailed description of aloes is in The Papyrus Ebers, c. 1550 BC. A. vera was used to treat worms and allergies, relieve headaches, soothe chest pains, burns, and skin ulcers, and treat the common cold. Dr. James Duke, head of the US Department of Agriculture, reported than many individuals wrote to him lauding aloe as a remedy for skin cancer.26 Currently, cosmetic companies use aloe in makeup, tissues, moisturizers, soaps, sunscreens, incense, shaving cream, and shampoos. Most cosmetic companies label all products that contain A. vera.

Despite the popularity of aloe, A. vera  has a dark side.  It isn’t widely known that both plants and gel can be poisonous. The poisonous compounds are aloin and anthraquinone c-glycoside. These compounds occur mostly on the inside layer of leaves. When harvesting A. vera gel, cut away the plant skin and retain only the actual gel. Although older plant leaves contain more gel, the inside layer of older plant leaves can be more irritating. This layer causes  contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. If the aloe plant is eaten, it can cause abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and red urine. Thankfully, red urine isn’t due to blood in the urine, but a compound in the aloe. Ensure children and pet companions don’t eat aloe leaves.

Jesus’s body was dead when Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped it in linen-infused myrrh and aloes. Aloes couldn’t heal him or take away the sting of his wounds. The healing aloes in Jesus’s burial cloths exemplified Jesus’s healing of mankind, not himself.

After Jesus’s resurrection some individuals in Judea and throughout the Roman Empire accepted healing from him. They accepted Jesus  as the promised Savior of the world. Many other individuals weren’t willing to be healed by Jesus. Some couldn’t comprehend that a man would die for their sins. Others simply didn’t believe that they were all that bad. Why would someone have to die for their few sins? For still others, it was easier to continue their same religious practices, i.e., make an animal sacrifice or give a little money into an offering box/plate, than to accept a new way of thinking. These individuals wanted to cover over the smell of their sins rather than be healed of those sins. The rationale and rationalizations that individuals used 2000 years ago for not accepting healing from Jesus are the same ones that individuals use today.

Reflection: Do you tend to rationalize your sins? Try to cover them over? Decide that they aren’t too bad? Ignore them? What could you do decrease those sins or better yet eradicate them completely? Contemplate/discuss how sin and obedience to national laws are the same and different to God’s laws.

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