Prickly pear cactus is our crabgrass here in the Arizona desert. It takes over. Every so often, you have to root it out and haul it off.
If you don’t, the pack-rats move in. Pack-rats build nests in prickly pear because those vicious spines create a natural defense against predators.
And, once the pack-rats take up residence, kissing bugs come to live in their cool, dark middens. These 6-legged Draculas sneak into your house while you’re sleeping and suck your blood. They’re like big, crawling mosquitoes.
The good news is that kissing bugs anesthetize your skin before they bite. You don’t feel a thing. The bad news is that many folks are allergic to the chemicals they secrete — my wife is one of them. So kissing bugs are more than creepy; they can be dangerous.
If you’re going to chop prickly pear, you’re going to get hurt. They’re covered with impressive, inch-long spines. And they have a more subtle defense: glochids, clusters of tiny, nearly invisible needles as fine as human hair. These guys seem to lodge in your skin just by looking at them, and they are the dickens to find once they get stuck in you.
At the end of my Saturday hauling off wheel-barrow-loads of prickly pear, I was sweating, bleeding and I’d been stuck numerous times. I spent the next thirty minutes finding and removing glochids with tweezers. Found three more the next morning.
It’s all Adam’s fault.
And to Adam [the Lord] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate the fruit I told you not to eat, I have placed a curse on the ground. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. All your life you will sweat to produce food, until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from which you came. For you were made from dust, and to the dust you will return.” —Genesis 3:17-19, NLT
Which can lead to the erroneous belief that God has abandoned us, and that we should ignore the world and its troubles and fix our eyes on Heaven and better days ahead. But that was not what Jesus taught.
The Pharisees apparently thought that way.
Jesus, grilled by the Pharisees on when the kingdom of God would come, answered, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or, ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you.” —Luke 17:20-21, The Message
The writer Amy Welborn puts it this way:
The Kingdom of God, then, is something Jesus talks about a lot because it really defines what we’re all about in this life. Want to be part of the greatness God wants for His creation? Be open to His reign. Want happiness and peace for yourself and others? Let God reign. … Jesus embodied this Kingdom. —Here. Now., Amy Welborn
The Kingdom of God is here, now, because Jesus lives. The Kingdom of God is in our midst because the Holy Spirit lives and moves in the people of God to accomplish God’s work in this fallen world. The Kingdom of God is here and now when we allow God to reign in our lives here and now.
It seems like an odd paradox, I suppose, but it is a paradox that shows us the nature of God. He is sovereign. He rules in the universe. He directs human history. Though the world is a train wreck, it has been redeemed by the victory of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
We have to chop cactus, and we can expect to sweat and bleed in the process. But we are not supposed to lean on our shovels, gazing off into the misty future, daydreaming about Heaven.
We are in the midst of God’s reign here and now. We bring the healing forgiveness and peace of the living Christ to a world in need of love today. We toil in God’s Kingdom, working in the power of his Holy Spirit to bring about his purposes this very instant. This very moment. Every moment.
Adam (and each one of us since then) has made a mess of things. But Christ undid all of our screw-ups.
We live in a time of great challenges. There’s a passel of cactus to chop and it’s nasty work. But we do it with the promise that the living God works beside us, sustaining us, healing our wounds, establishing his Kingdom in the middle of this desert. Right here. Right now.
Photo credit: Tohono Chul Park