“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.”
In a gospel reading so rich with meaning and import, it can be easy to skip over this one sentence.
But this short piece of the text sums up in many ways the entirety of Jesus’ life on earth, and how we are called to join him in Holy Week.
The grain of wheat falling into the earth is a simple agricultural image, easily accessible to the people hearing it in Jesus’ time.
But the meaning is so much deeper than it first appears, when we think about it in terms of how and why Jesus gives us his life.
What is Jesus talking about? What does it mean to be a grain of wheat?
Well, first, it means smallness.
You’ve seen grains of wheat—you know you can hold hundreds in a handful. And yet it creates a large plant that then becomes bread for the world.
We could not sum up Jesus’ life on earth more clearly or simply than that.
And the original smallness matters.
Jesus came to earth as one person, born into a poor family in an obscure location.
There may have been angels and Wise Men at his birth, but aside from drawing threats to his life from a fearful king, these early accolades earned him little.
He lived a normal childhood in an ordinary town. Just like most of us.
A grain of wheat does not stand out among its fellows.
You can’t pick it out from others and say, “That’s the one. That’s the one who will change the world.” To be a grain of wheat is to be small and hidden, unappreciated, unrecognized, then to burst forth with growth.
So far we follow the metaphor. Great work for the Kingdom of God can come from one seemingly ordinary person, a person who is radically open to God’s grace flowing through them.
That’s encouraging. That’s hopeful. That’s something we can get on board with for ourselves in terms of following Jesus.
We all like to hear about how we’re full of wonderful things just about to happen if we say yes to God.
But then the image takes a turn. Continue reading