Unless a Grain of Wheat Falls
Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 22, 2015
Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33
Some Greeks who had come up to worship at the Passover feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.
Meditation: Sara Larson
About a year ago, I was talking with a good friend during a particularly difficult time in my life. This wise woman listened patiently and sympathetically to my long list of self-pitying complaints. After I had spilled out all the negativity I could offer, she paused, looked me in the eye, and said “Now tell me, what fruit do you see coming from this suffering?” Her question took me by surprise, and I didn’t know how to respond. You see, I have been trained to look for God’s presence in the joyful moments of my life – to thank him for a child’s smile, a beautiful mass, a kind friend, or a spectacular sunrise. It’s a lot harder for me to see God working through the darker times of life. Still, that intriguing question kept running through my head over the next few days, and little by little, my perspective on the situation began to shift. My attention was pulled away from the difficulty and toward the good fruit that God might be bringing out of it.
Reading today’s Gospel, I think this change of perspective is exactly what Jesus is aiming for when he is speaking to his disciples. The story that comes right before today’s reading is the triumphant entry into Jerusalem– a story of Jesus being greeted as a king, surrounded by praise and acclamation. That certainly looked like his big moment of glory. However, as soon as Jesus has a moment to talk to his followers, he starts pointing them toward the true moment of glory that is to come – the hour of his crucifixion and death. He seems to be telling them to shift their perspective – to look for God’s fruitfulness in the place they least expect it.
We know that soon after this conversation, Jesus was arrested, suffered, and died, and it’s still hard for me to comprehend how he could walk willingly into that fate. But maybe the explanation is right here: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Maybe he had the strength to walk straight into suffering because his eyes were on the fruit.
I wonder if we could all have the wisdom to walk through our lives with this same focus, to see through our struggles to the fruit God can bring out of them. Jesus makes it very clear that every single one of us is called to die, in some way, in our own lives. Sometimes these deaths come without our consent – an illness, a relationship that falls apart, the loss of a job, the passing of a loved one. Other deaths we choose – giving our precious time to help someone in need, walking with someone who is suffering when we would rather turn away, opening ourselves to God’s plans for our life, even when they are different from our own. Even getting out of bed for mass on a cold winter morning feels like a little death sometimes! During Lent, our practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are also meant to be small ways we choose to die to ourselves in our daily life.
However, in the midst of all this solemn talk of death, what I hear in this reading is a joyful promise – a promise that God can bring good fruit out of all that seems dark and difficult and empty in our lives. As we come upon these experiences of death, the real question is this: How will we choose to walk through them – with our eyes on our pain or our eyes on the fruit?
Pray, Reflect, Discuss
In your life today, where do you experience sorrow, suffering, struggle, death? Can you see any fruit that God is bringing out of that suffering? Is there anything you can do to shift your perspective and open your eyes to that fruit?
Is there a “little death” that God is calling you to choose in your own life? Is there some small way you could lay down your life and allow God to bring fruit from that sacrifice?
As we near the end of Lent, reflect on the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving you adopted for this season. How do you see these practices bearing fruit in your life or the lives of those around you? How can you carry that fruit forward into your life after Lent ends?