Last week, for the first time in 17 years, the federal government used its authority to administer the death penalty to a 47-year-old man named Daniel Lee. As I write this, two more executions are scheduled imminently, including for a 68-year-old man with dementia.
Last year, Pope Francis finally clarified the slight technical ambiguity in the wording of Catholic Social Teaching around the death penalty, calling it an offense “against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person, which contradicts God’s plan for [humankind] and society” and saying that it “does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance.” From my own experience doing community organizing against the death penalty in North Carolina 13 years ago, I can tell you that the saying that “those without the capital get the punishment” is absolutely true—whether that be capital in the form of income, or social capital imbued by race.
In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus uses his favorite teaching tool—stories. The parable of the woman and her measure of yeast, of the mustard seed, and the one that gets the most detail: the wheat and the weeds.
The audience of Matthew’s Gospel would recognize the “weeds” sown by the enemy in the parable as darnel weed, which has the tricky quality of looking pretty exactly like wheat until it is fully grown, when it stands up straight while wheat droops over. You risk doing more harm than good if you try to make the call too quickly. The harvest might be lost and a vital source of food ruined.
Jesus is warning his disciples, and us, to not make the call about who is a weed too quickly. This happens when we label a person as “irredeemable,” when we separate them from their community prematurely because they cannot pay a cash bail or because of harsh, racist sentencing laws. This happens with the plague of mass incarceration—of rushing to label and pull out the weeds—which has spoiled a generation’s harvest of community, family, and standard of living.
It happens, too, when we decide the weeds are the people who might look like us, but who believe far too differently from us on the political spectrum to be considered moral or godly.
In each case, we reject the possibility that there is even an infinitesimal speck of grace within the person—the size of a mustard seed or a measure of yeast.
And when we do so, we act contrary to God as She is described in the reading from the book of Wisdom: “You judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us;” and in Psalm 86, “abounding in kindness.” God acts in ways that give us hope, that gives each of us space and permission to repent and draw close to the Spirit who knows us beyond words.
That is the model we must follow; that is the power with which God acts. When we rush to judgment we risk ruining the harvest, damaging the kin-dom of God as it grows among us. Each of us holds the potential to nourish each other; that life-giving capability comes from God and cannot be extinguished by humans.
This week, allow yourself to reflect: Whom do I dismiss as a weed worth pulling out? When have I rushed to judgment? When, in contrast, have I experienced the “loving and forgiving” God who abounds in kindness? How can I pass that on?
Katie Lacz is a mother, an M.Div., and a spiritual director living outside Boulder, CO. She currently works as Program Associate for the Women’s Ordination Conference. A former Jesuit Volunteer (Raleigh ’06-’07), she continues to seek the magis while living in the messy and beautiful work of raising her two small children.