May I speak in the name of one God, who is Creator, Christ, and Counselor. Amen.
This morning, I confess to you all that I was tempted to scrap my sermon entirely and just play clips of Congressman John Lewis giving speeches. I know, after last week, that we have the technology to do it! And if you hadn’t heard the news, John Lewis, a Civil Rights legend and a personal hero of mine, died late Friday night from pancreatic cancer. And ever since then, I’ve been re-watching his speeches and interviews, feeling sad and inspired and grateful all at once.
On May 9, 1961, in his twenties then, John Lewis was beaten bloody by a mob of angry white men when he attempted to enter a waiting room at Rock Hill, South Carolina bus station. This waiting room was labeled “whites.” John Lewis said of that event, “I knew someone attacked me on May 9th, but I would not have recognized him.” It was not the first nor the last time John Lewis was physically assaulted in the midst of non-violent demonstrations for equality.
In today’s Gospel, Christ tells us another parable with agricultural imagery. This time, the story is about a man who planted good seed in his field. When that good seed began to grow into wheat, weeds grew among the wheat. “An enemy planted those seeds,” the man said. And his servants said, “Shall we go pull up the weeds?” And the Son of Man said, “No, for in pulling up the weeds, you may pull up the wheat too.” The good sprouts may be damaged in pulling up the bad sprouts. Instead, Christ says, let them grow together, the wheat and the weeds. Let them grow together.
In 2009, decades after John Lewis suffered that beating at the bus station, a white man in his 70s along with his son, in his 40s, came to visit John Lewis in his office. The man introduced himself and said, “Mr. Lewis. I’m one of the men who beat you. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
And Congressman Lewis said, “I accept your apology. I forgive you. We are all a part of the human family.” And the man began to cry. His son began to cry. When asked about this moment, Lewis would say, as Martin Luther King Jr. taught him, “I hold no grudge. Hate is too heavy a burden to bear.”
It is easy, so easy, to read this parable and the explanation that Matthew’s Jesus gives to explain it, and decide that we too can label people wheat or weeds. Perhaps, in listening to this story about Congressman John Lewis and a man who felt ashamed by his past violence, we may feel tempted to label one of them good seed that grew into wheat and one bad seed that grew into weeds.
It would be easy to read this parable and decide that people are either good or bad. They are either wheat or weeds. They are racist or anti-racist. Progressive or Conservative. Jew or Palestine. You see how easy, how tempting it is, to sort people into binaries. And maybe the next instinct would be to stay in those groups, to let opposites repel and remain separate.
But separation is exactly the opposite of what John Lewis fought for throughout his entire life. And in the parable, separation is not what the Son of Man instructs. Instead, in the parable he stops the workers from pulling the weeds, as it may cause them to accidentally damage the roots of the good wheat by gathering it before it is time. The good seeds could be harmed if separated from the “bad seeds.” He says, “Let both of them grow together until the harvest.”
This image from the parable has stayed with me all week! Let them grow together until the harvest. Let the “good” and the “bad” live and grow together, in the same soil. Even though an enemy has attempted sabotage by planting weeds among your wheat, do nothing. Let them grow together.
What I take from this is that labeling and separating the “good” from the “bad” is not our job at all. Let them grow together. The roots are bound up together, and both would suffer if they were separated.
You might say the metaphor doesn’t hold up when Jesus explains the parable to the disciples later on. Jesus explains that this is another imaging of the end of the world, where he is the farmer and the workers are angels, who will gather up the weeds, a symbol for causes of sin and evildoers, to be burned, and then the remaining wheat, a symbol for the children of the Kingdom of Heaven, will shine like the sun in the
Kingdom of their Father. But yet, when I read that explanation–even though I’m always uncomfortable when Jesus talks about burning and weeping and gnashing of teeth–I still read that deciding what or who is good, and who is not, and separating the two is not my job. Instead, it is God’s, and it won’t be done until the end of times.
Until then, Christ says, “Let them grow together.”
Hate is too heavy a burden to bear. We are all a part of the family of humankind. We are all children of God. These are the truth things John Lewis told the man who came to apologize for beating him so long ago.
All of our fates are tied up together. We are reminded of that over and over these days! Until all are equal, none are equal. Unless everyone takes precautions, unless ALL work together to stop the spread of coronavirus, all will remain at risk. We are all growing together in the same field. We are all a part of the family of humankind. And it is our duty to grow together. Not to judge, no. Not to hate, for hate is too heavy a burden to bear.. Not to decide who is good, for that is God’s job and God’s alone. Just to grow. Together.
Let them grow together.
My friends, I’ve said these words to you in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.