I spent the afternoon yesterday afternoon attempting to eradicate Canadian thistles from a section of garden. The area had been thoroughly weeded a week before, but already small green thistle shoots were poking above the ground. But the size of the shoots was deceptive. When I dug beneath the surface, their roots were as thick as my finger in some places. When I pulled the roots up, they would usually break off after 9 or 10 inches. But if I carefully dug down farther I could find the mother root, buried horizontally like an electrical cable a 18 inches beneath the surface. Every inch or two along its length the mother root sends up a new shoot to the surface to become another new thistle. You can pull out five thistles from the surface, but the mother root will quietly send up new thistles to the surface five feet away.
So why all this information about a weed? I was gardening with Cliff Kindy, a life long peacemaking gardener. Cliff compared his vision of Christian peacemaking in the midst of empire to the Canadian thistle. Cliff has spent the last 15 years working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in places like Colombia, the West Bank, Iraq and Vieques, Puerto Rico.
A Canadian thistle isn’t a warm and fuzzy image like a donut hole or even a mustard seed (though some have been doing a lot of good work to rehabilitate its image). The Kindy family, who have been working the garden for 20 years, have yet to find a way to keep it out of their garden, though apparently sweet potatoes can help some.
In Jesus’ last week on earth, Cliff pointed out that Jesus did a lot of thistly things. He mocked the traditional triumphant entry of emperors. He overturned the tables of those who commodified the religious lives of the Jewish people. He even radically upended the expectations of his own disciples by washing their feet. Needless to say that’s hardly the proper way for a triumphant revolutionary to act. Doves landing on your shoulders? Perhaps, but not doing the dusty, dirty work of a servant.
Cliff showed me something else about the thistle. Sometimes when you pull a root out of the soil it looks completely dry and dead. But when you peel off the skin there’s a green shoot underneath waiting to burst out.
The Romans and the Jewish leaders tried to nip the kingdom campaign in the bud, but like a thistle, Jesus rose again. And the thistles keep spreading to this day…