Contributing Writer
Pastor Mark Swanson
First Lutheran Church

Spring gardening season has come, so I decided to cut back some wild roses and a lot of other thorny, invasive stuff growing in my yard. I had my eye on getting the unwanted plant material out of the yard for a while. I tore up my hands and arms in the process. The cuts and gashes did not look good. I did not bleed profusely, but enough to draw the attention of my wife, who said it looked “nasty.” It did. Plants with thorns did not evolve that way to be pleasant and nice to anyone or anything with plans to chop them down. My wounds testified to the fact that I was the enemy. Thorns are intended to stab and hurt. Thorns inflict pain. It’s easy to see why those who mocked and tormented our Lord plaited a crown of thorns and jammed it down on his head. Making someone hurt is a frequent motivator. Our desire to even the score runs deep in our veins. Have a grudge, then just find some thorns to poke and jab at your enemy.

Jesus knew that thorns are not limited to the plant kind. Oh, no. Thorns are as varied and plentiful as grains of sand on a beach. War, terror, open violence on our streets and in our schools…thorns are everywhere. And these are just the thorns that are most obvious. Thorns have a way of pricking and poking in small, subtle ways too.. These are the thorns that are tiny splinters that get under the skin and often go unnoticed until they fester and grow red and fill with the pus of infection. Hate, bitterness, vile words spoken against one another, racism, intolerance toward people different from us, these are the thorns that grow from within and then erupt in a fury of destruction. The cuts and gashes are horrible. The wounds are deep. Healing comes slowly, sometimes never. If only we could haul out the pruning shears and lop off the problem.

Trouble is that the thorns I’d like to remove are attached to people that God has made. What I call a “problem” is a person who God wants to save. I’ll have to return my pruning shears to the garden shed. Yes, the Lord is the master of the garden, not I. The good and faithful Gardener of this earth has no intention of turning over the responsibilities of maintenance to a people bent on indiscriminate pruning practices. Imagine the reckless gashing and gouging that might happen. Best to let the Lord take control of the thorns. Best to let God look at the brokenness of this world and act appropriate to his management style: love and mercy and unending forgiveness.

The gashes and cuts that I have on my arm are testimony to my sin and shortcomings. In my attempts to prune the thorns around me, I have failed to see that I am a thorn myself. Perhaps you are too. Then I look upon the Lord and see his arms, his hands, the cuts and wounds that run much deeper than mine. His are wounds that never heal, scars that never fade. He has endured the painful punctures made by thorns like me, and all the sharp barbs of a world that stings the very gardener that brought it to life. And still, he never lifts the hand that holds the pruning hook. Oh, what grace we have received. Praise be to God.

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