(If your parish is using the readings from year A, please click here for reflection.)
We have been in the season of Lent for many weeks now. It can seem like a very long season and we look forward to the celebration of Easter, relief from fasting. In some ways, Lent can seem sort of artificial--we know that Jesus is already risen from the dead. When Holy Week finally arrives, are we supposed to pretend that Jesus dies again? No. We know the Good News of the Resurrection, but do we understand what it means for us? Do we understand what God's vision is? The disciples in the Gospel for this Sunday do not understand about the Resurrection at all. Jesus gives them a peek at what the vision is for all of us.
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
This seems a little odd. The festival is the feast of the Passover that is celebrated by the Jewish people every year. Greeks are not Jewish, yet here they are at the festival, and here they are wanting to see Jesus, a Jew. They approach Philip, who has a Greek name and is from a Greek area of Galilee, so they probably feel comfortable talking to him. But why does Philip go to Andrew (also a disciple with a Greek name) instead of straight to Jesus? What does he think Jesus might say?
Stranger still, is Jesus' response. He tells this parable,
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.
What has this got to do with some Greeks wishing to see Jesus? What can he mean by this parable?
One seed, if it sits on a shelf, loving its life, will never change. It will never be anything more. Eventually, it will degrade and wither. It will lose its life as a seed.
Those who love their life lose it
However, if that seed "hates" its life--or, we could say, decides not to hang onto that life--and lets itself fall into the earth, it will die. Its life as a seed will end. But what more do we know will happen?
Roots will grow out of the deteriorating seed, and green shoots will sprout out of the earth. Over a long period of time, "ears" will form. This is the fruit of the wheat. In each ear of wheat are many, many seeds.
And what can be done with wheat seeds? If they do not choose to remain just single grains that never become anything more, seeds can, of course, be ground into flour. The flour can be baked into bread, and many people can be fed. Seeds can also again fall into the earth, and over time, more and more seeds will form. From that one seed, more and more food until there is no more hunger. From that one seed, more and more life, over and over, year after year, eternally.
those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
So...what does this mean? There seems to be a vision here...at least a vision for wheat.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
Why is Jesus troubled? What "hour" is he talking about? All the talk about a seed dying, makes us wonder if he is troubled about his own death. If he says, ‘Father, save me from this hour,’ will he be like the grain of wheat that sits on a shelf, or the grain of wheat that falls into the earth? If he says, 'Father glorify your name,' which seed would he be like? Both seeds die. What is the difference?
How can we describe the death of the two seeds? The one that sits on the shelf preserves its life. It dies eventually, but during its life, it changes very little. The seed that falls to earth dies, too, but its death blesses the world. We could say that its death becomes a gift.
When we compare the fates of these two seeds, we know which kind of death Jesus chooses. His death is a blessing to the world. His death produces more and more life. His death produces more and more bread. One day, perhaps, there will be no more hunger.
When Jesus choses to glorify God's name,
a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
The Jewish people are used to listening in their close relationship with God. Like the Jewish shepherds in the fields when Jesus is born, they interpret the voice of God as an angel speaking. The Greeks are Gentiles who are used to looking for God in nature. Like the Gentile wise men who look to the heavens and follow a star, the Greeks in the crowd look to the heavens and hear thunder. It seems that God speaks to both Jews and Gentiles. It seems that God's vision involves all people.
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Now we know for sure which kind of death Jesus will choose. We know which wheat seed he is like. He gives his whole self and is lifted up on the cross. He dies and begins the fulfilment of those words he speaks as the Good Shepherd:
I lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.
So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:15b-16)
One flock. It seems that Jesus holds the same vision that God holds. It involves all people. And this can only happen if he gives his life as a blessing for the world. this can only happen,
unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies
Can we do this, too? Can we also give our whole selves as a blessing for the world? If we do, will our lives end on a cross? Probably not. Our lives will end eventually, of course, but not as a seed withering away on a shelf. Our lives will be a gift. We can hold the same vision as Jesus.