“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.” John 12:24
This is so fitting for where we are in the calendar. Lent is getting closer to over, and Holy Week is drawing near, when there are all these climactic moments leading to Jesus’ arrest, then torture and execution (and then Resurrection). Here in John 12 is a moment when Jesus knows his time is short. It seems like an ordinary night. They’ve just recently seen Lazarus called back to life out of the tomb (a preview of coming attractions), and there are some Greeks at the door who want to talk to Jesus. He’s still Mr. Popular. But in the midst, Jesus has this aside with the disciples that pretty directly warns them that he’s going to die. And die for real; he mentions going into the earth. That famous dirt nap, six feet under, buying the farm, etc.
But Jesus certainly isn’t out to be morbid. This is preparation. “I’m going to die” but also “it’s the way for me to bear much fruit.” Once again, since the disciples don’t seem to get it at the time, we reckon they thought back on these words and started realizing what it meant.
Without talking about the physics behind it, or the holy magic making it possible, or even the deep reasoning behind why it had to happen, Jesus is describing the complex nature of the death/resurrection of God, so that they can get it. You know how seeds work, he says. You know that left in a jar or on your kitchen table, this single seed isn’t going to do anything. It won’t uncontrollably sprout as it is, not unless it’s prepared the right way, put in the right conditions, buried and left “dead” to germinate. So it will be with me, he tells them. This hope is what should empower them during the few nights after his burial. The darkness, and death, should have been a sign that the steps were being fulfilled to bring them to the *BOOM*, springing forth, blooming, fruit-bearing moment.
And like any good seed-bearer, we see how the process repeated spreads. The fruit of that first fore-plant, in turn, dies and seeds the ground, and the produce can spread even exponentially. Not only is this a word of hope during the dark night, but it’s also a promise of future hope provided the fruit learns how to be like its parent-plant. None of us is being invited to die just like Jesus, mimic him completely, be killed on a cross, etc. But we know the repeated challenge from Jesus: die to yourselves; carry your “cross”; lose your life; give yourself completely in service to others.
Still, we often spend far more time, a ton of our lives, trying not to die. Avoiding it at all costs. At least thinking about it very little. We don’t look for ways to deposit ourselves in the ground so that new growth might happen. We look for ways to cling to the last drop of the sap of life, and probably corrupt the quality of the seed we could’ve left behind. We sometimes do. Think today about what it is to pour your best, at whatever age you find yourself, into your seed. Not just your children, or your personal legacy, but the seed of faith you deposit after you, the seed of love and deep Life you’ve taught others, the witness of grace and forgiveness that people feel in you, and the ways you can transmit the Gospel in person. Jesus poured himself out completely, and the after-growth is truly beautiful; it includes many of you. So let us get our heads out of our you-know-whats today, and point ourselves again towards Christ Jesus, and seed the ground as we go.