READINGS: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 5:7-9, John 12:20-33
Theme: Unless a Grain of Wheat Dies
5th Sunday of Lent
A little boy, with no previous experience in farming, told his father that he wanted to sow some grains of corn the mother had given him. The dad advised that he put the grains in a bowl of water for a few days before sowing them.
After three or four days the boy went to pick the bowl of ‘soaked’ grains of corn, only to realize that the whole stuff was smelly and rotten. He immediately ran to his father, crying and complaining that the grains were rotten and useless. But the dad put his arms around him, and consoling him, said: ‘unless the grains rot and die, they cannot grow and produce more fruits.’
Jesus, likewise, said in today’s gospel reading: ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest’ (Jn. 12:24). In this way, Jesus spoke of his impending sacrificial death in Jerusalem and of the fruit of salvation that would come out of it for all mankind.
By his death, Jesus sealed the New Covenant God had promised through his prophet (Jer. 31:31-34; the first reading). The Old Covenant was sealed with the blood of animals, but the New and Eternal Covenant was sealed with the precious blood of the Only Begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ.
According to today’s gospel reading, right after Jesus had spoken about his sacrificial death, using the image of sowing a grain of wheat, he added: ‘anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life’ (Jn. 12:25). In other words, each of us is supposed to be a grain that falls to the ground, dies and produces much grain.
Let us, therefore, use the process of sowing a seed and its growth and fruition to learn how we can also die to this world and produce a rich harvest for life in heaven.
DIGGING OF THE GROUND: As we usually dig the ground to sow a seed, so the meaning of life [Why are we here on earth? Where are we going?] is deeper than is obvious. There is more to life than we experience on earth.
PLACING THE SEED IN THE HOLE: As we have to place the seed in the hole, so we should seek the deeper/ spiritual life that Jesus offers us through his life and teachings.
COVERING OF THE SEED WITH SOIL: As the seed, covered with some soil, is surrounded by darkness, so the seed of our faith is surrounded by ‘darkness’. This means that we see the future glory God has promised us not by our physical sight but by the ‘darkness of faith’. In other words, even by our faith, we cannot fully comprehend, in this life, the mysteries and blessings of God. St. Paul puts it this way: ‘for now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face; now I know partially, but then I shall know just as I am know’ (1 Cor. 13:12). St. John, in turn, says: ‘beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know when he is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 Jn. 3:2).
WATERING OF THE SEED AND PLANT: As the farmer may depend on rainfall for the germination and growth of the seed, so the seed of our faith sown in this life requires the grace of the Living Water, the Holy Spirit, to germinate and grow.
ROTTING PROCESS: Beloved, as the seed has to rot or die, so we are to die to many things in this world:
For instance, we are to die to illegitimate pleasures (e.g. pre-marital or extra-marital sex).
For instance, we are to die to illegitimate ambitions (e.g. a young person who wants to get rich quickly through ‘sakawa’ [fraud or occultism]).
Sometimes, we have to die to even legitimate ambitions (e.g. between age 16 and 20 years, as a science student, I had the legitimate ambition of becoming a civil engineer, in order to help grow my father’s small scale construction enterprise; but I had to abandoned it to respond to God’s call).
The dead person suffers no physical pain; so we also die to this world when the sufferings or challenges of this life do not ‘shake’ our faith.
St. Paul says, the dead person sins no more (Rom. 6:7); we should strive to achieve this level of dying to the world.
GERMINATION: Germination is an observable sign of a new life of the seed that was sown. Similarly, when the seed of our faith continuous to receive the watering of the Holy Spirit and we die to this world, others begin to observe the freshness of our new life in Christ: they see that we have abandoned our old way of life and have embraced the new life of good deeds, prayer, active participation in church, etc.
CARING FOR THE SEEDLING AND PLANT: The germination was just the beginning. As the farmer has to continue to take care of the seedling and the plant, by weeding, tilling the soil, watering, clearing of rubbish, etc, so we need to weed with the Word of God, till the soil of our faith with prayer, water with the Sacraments of Grace, clear the rubbish of bad deeds with good deeds, etc.
FRUITION: With the continuous reception of the grace of God and our constant cultivation of the plant of our faith, we may produce many grains or fruits. St. Paul mentions some of the grains/ fruits we may produce: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Gal. 5:22).
CONCLUSION – HARVESTING: Such are the fruits God enjoys! And so when we produce them his angels would harvest them for the banquet of heaven. In Ghana, only the best of some of our fruits (e.g. pineapples, bananas) can be exported to Europe, because that market demands high quality of fruits. Beloved, the market of heaven demands a higher quality, indeed, the highest quality of the fruits of our faith. So I pray that we would produce fruits of faith whose quality meets the market of heaven, and may they be so delightful to the Lord God that they would end up right on his banquet table! Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis