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Once upon a time, a young mother was appalled by the state of her flowerbeds. They had not been well taken care of before she and her husband moved into the house, and shortly after the couple moved in, a baby joined their little family. The baby was colicky, and it was nearly winter before the young mother was able to work on any sort of project. Ohio offered up some very temperamental weather the following spring – complete with snow on Mother’s Day – so it was the end of May before the young mother ventured out to weed. The thistles were, by this time, fully entrenched and ready to do bloody battle.
The flowerbeds were a giant mat of thistles. Interwoven, with a long history of rhizomes that looked impossible to conquer. The young mother sweated in the dust, gloved hands pulling one thistle after another, hoping for roots, half the time just coming up with prickled leaves.
“This reminds me of Israel,” she said.
I think I’ll switch to first person now. It’s easier.
I went to Israel on a two week study trip with Ray Vanderlaan in September of 2019. One of my most vivid memories of that trip is spending half an hour picking up rocks in some stranger’s field. I have never seen so many different varieties of pricker bush in one spot. It’s awfully hard to pick up rocks when the whole area is covered with dry, spiny, wicked prickers.
The point (haha) of the exercise was to internalize the parable of the soils, which is dealing with a common subject of rabbinic parable – namely, “What kind of learner are you?” But I digress.
That’s how I got to thinking about parables.
I wanted to know how to get rid of my thistle infestation, so of course I Googled, “How to get rid of thistles.” I found out that
thistles grow in sunny, open soil.
Therefore, the best way to get rid of thistles is to
fill the soil with desirable plants so there is
- a) no room for the thistles and
- b) no sun for the thistles.
Hmm…if I write a subheading called
How to get rid of thistles
maybe I will rank in Google for this topic, since I am such an expert.
Perhaps I should get back to the parable.
The young mother decided that the best way to get rid of the thistles in her flowerbed was 3 fold:
- pull them out by the roots,
- fill the flowerbeds with pretty plants that would bush out and cover the ground and shade out the weeds,
- and keep cultivating the soil to discourage small thistles from taking root.
Since this is a parable, I will assume that you can make the desired connections to spirituality. She who has ears to hear….
Here’s a question for you…
Is good the absence of evil, or its own force?
Are Christians playing the defense, or the offense?
(below) my supervisor kicking back and relaxing in the shade
The Gates of Hell
Jesus continued, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (see Matt. 16:13-20).
Though Christian traditions debate the theological meaning of those words, it seems clear that Jesus’ words also had symbolic meaning. His church would be built on the “rock” of Caesarea Philippi – a rock literally filled with niches for pagan idols, where ungodly values dominated.
Gates were defensive structures in the ancient world. By saying that the gates of hell would not overcome, Jesus suggested that those gates were going to be attacked.
Standing as they were at a literal “Gate of Hades,” the disciples may have been overwhelmed by Jesus’ challenge. They had studied under their rabbi for several years, and now he was commissioning them to a huge task: to attack evil, and to build the church on the very places that were most filled with moral corruption.
Jesus presented a clear challenge with his words at Caesarea Philippi: He didn’t want his followers hiding from evil: He wanted them to storm the gates of hell.
A Piece of Chalk
But as I sat scrawling these silly figures on the brown paper, it began to dawn on me, to my great disgust, that I had left one chalk, and that a most exquisite and essential chalk, behind. I searched all my pockets, but I could not find any white chalk. Now, those who are acquainted with all the philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. I cannot avoid remarking here upon a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals, is this, that white is a colour. It is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. When, so to speak, your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses; when it grows white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen.
This lovely little piece is a throwback to one of my high school literature classes. One of those stories that I remember as a little boring to my young mind, but the story that I have remembered most often in adulthood. Again, I highly recommend a complete read of it – it’s short. The ending has a sweet twist of irony. Don’t skip ahead.
A good offense is the best defense.
Yep, the only way to keep the thistles at bay is to take active steps before they take root. Shade them out by filling your life with good things. Pure things. Lovely things. The voice of God.
Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Philippians 4:8 KJV
I hope my little examples made sense. In the spirit of parables I don’t feel like explaining myself too much for fear of losing the punchline.
- I am happy to report that my approach to thistles – at least the flowerbed variety – is working. The desirable plants are growing, and with repeated cultivation the thistles seem to be losing their vigor and don’t spring back quite so quickly. Maybe after several years of care my flowerbeds will be easier to keep weed free. Hmm…there’s a lesson there too.
- Interested in seeing recent flowerbed pictures? I sent some out in the email announcing this post. If you’re not signed up for my email updates yet, now is the time! Sometimes you get some extra little snippets, and email is the only surefire way to make sure you see each new post (short of coming to my blog every once in awhile on your own accord). Social media is not reliable and only shows my posts to a fraction of the people who follow me there. (It also clutters my mind so I stay off of it as much as possible.) CLICK HERE to sign up via email if you like.
- Also, thanks to my husband for taking care of Hadassah while I wrote this post uninterrupted! (Refer to my recent post about the death of dreams if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) It’s always nice to get a jumble of thoughts typed out. These “philosophical” blog posts give me the excuse to take time to journal in more polished form. I like to think that my children and I will enjoy reading through these later in life, in a different season.
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