Strange Fruit

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of what falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:20-33

March 19, 2021, Words By: Pat Thompson, Image By: Unknown

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin. Chauvin’s knee was pressed into Mr. Floyd’s neck as he lay face down in the street for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Bystanders pleaded with the officer to stop while Mr. Floyd pleaded for his own life, “I can’t breathe!” The video went viral and the whole world listened to George Floyd call for his mama with his last breaths.

Ten months of protests, marches, and civil unrest followed, and this week, the trial of Derek Chauvin, charged with the death of George Floyd, has begun. Real conversations about criminal justice reform are finally happening in cities all around this country because the world was witness to and frankly, unable to look away from this horrific, inhumane act of terror and violence. We remember that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and laws were enacted at great cost including the deaths by the assassination of many prominent leaders of the Black community. There is a great deal of pain in Black blood that flows through the streets of this country just so that there could be some semblance of political change.
In John 12:23-24, we find Jesus in conversations with his disciples about his imminent death. 

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

I imagine Jesus as a parental figure or coach. “Remember this is what we talked about. I want you to be ready and stay focused.” If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t blame the disciples if they couldn’t grasp what Jesus was trying to convey to them. It feels counterintuitive to believe that death brings life. And actually, he says when one single grain dies, much fruit will come!
Sitting with this passage during this part of the Lenten season seems appropriate. Good Friday is almost here and I always wonder if, when, and how Jesus’s friends were able to find comfort in the words, “but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Were they able to see through their own grief to the life that was coming, the life that was promised? 
The Son of Man taking our judgment to the cross and dismantling its power gives rise to our true and complete liberation. 
In 1965, the nation witnessed the violence on Bloody Sunday against peaceful protesters when they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Marchers were met with attack dogs, water hoses, and batons, beaten in the street by state law enforcement! The fruit that came from those seeds? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Act of 1965! The world felt the sting and crushing, collective grief when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 (during the Fifth Week of Lent no less) and the fruit growing from these seeds? The Fair Housing Act of 1968 passed and millions of followers who, more than 50 years after his death, carry his legacy with them. The fruit is still being produced by Dr. King’s legacy. 

Lastly, though we’ve yet to discover the fruit that Mr. Floyd’s legacy leaves behind, the Gospel insists that God calls forth life from death. That’s God’s specialty. I want to be hopeful, I really do, but I am having a hard time seeing it. The fruit of Mr. Floyd’s death feels a lot more like Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” in her haunting song about the brutality of the lynching tree. If this moment is to be anything more than another lynching, we are going to have to turn and see the strange fruit for what it is, before it can ever be something more. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

About The Author

Pat Thompson

White Center, WA| U.S.