We are approaching the culmination of our Lenten journey; this is the final week before Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We continue to reflect on Jesus’ sufferings and on how they strengthen us as we pass through this valley of tears.
Today, once again, Jesus uses an image from the world of nature, a “grain of wheat,” to enlighten us about the spiritual life. In thinking about seeds, we may recall the wonder we experienced as children when we first saw seeds that we planted sprout with new life. We plant the seeds, then we wait, and in time, the miracle of a new plant emerges from the ground! However, we do not usually think much about the process that takes place in secret, about what happens to the seed before any new life is visible. First the seed must be buried – which from the seed’s perspective is terrible. Then it must be broken open and decay, sacrificing itself, so to speak, for the future life of the plant. In a way, a seed undergoes numerous deaths before it produces new life.
Jesus identifies himself with this natural process. He is like a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies to produce much fruit. He is directing our attention to the necessity of his impending suffering and death, which will produce the abundant fruit of our salvation. Because of his love for us, he gladly embraces his mission. He does not ask the Father, “save me from this hour.” Losing his life for the sake of eternal life is the very purpose for which he has come. In this, Jesus also shows us the example we are to follow. This is the Christian life, the following of Jesus in his journey through death to life. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.”
How do we follow the Lord to gain new life? Jesus answers this question in today’s Gospel. He teaches us his own way: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Salvation is not cheap; the way to life is costly. The analogy of the grain of wheat applies not only to Jesus but also to every Christian. The idea of “hating our life” sounds strange and unnatural, but Jesus here is not talking about whatever we intensely dislike about our life. He is pointing out the central decision of a disciple: to choose life in Christ above everything else. The “much fruit” that this decision produces is eternal life!
Planting is an act of faith and hope. When we choose to follow Jesus, we do not go from seed to fruit right away. It happens in God’s time. Jesus often speaks of his “hour.” He means the time appointed for the fulfillment of God’s plan. The Father is the one in charge. If we want to be followers of the Lord, we must accept his timing. This demands patience from us. With God, there is a time for dying and a time for rising; a time for sacrifice and a time for rejoicing; a time for Lent and a time for Easter. When we rush his plan and take things into our own hands, we ruin it.
In our nature we would like to eliminate the dying part altogether. We recoil from sacrifice. There is a certain modern mindset that proposes that we can go through life without thinking about unpleasant things, and invites us to distract ourselves from them in myriad ways. There are some Christians who seem to think the same, telling us that we can enjoy life on earth and that we do not have to suffer. However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that to follow him means not simply rising but both dying and rising. If we do not die to our selfish ways, we will not grow. This is fundamental to Christian life. We cannot avoid the paschal mystery, and there is no shortcut.
We can gain a deeper appreciation of the way of the paschal mystery in light of the first reading and the promise of a new covenant. When we view law as something imposed from outside, even if it is a law of love, we experience it as a burden; we want to avoid it. But the promise of the Lord is that the new covenant will not be like that. It is no longer a law etched in stone or written on parchment. It is placed within us, written on our hearts. We choose the way of the paschal mystery, not simply because we must, or because we have some peculiar love of dying. The Lord has given us a new heart. Now we are moved by love to join him in the authentic way of love – the way of the Cross and Resurrection.
As I meditate on Jesus’ sufferings, how do they strengthen me as I pass through the valley of tears? Do I tend to rush God’s plans for my life and take things into my own hands? During this Lent, am I becoming more convinced that if I do not die to my selfish ways, I will not grow?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.