Message for 18 March 2018: “Whole Wheat Spirituality”
Posted On February 20, 2018
Today’s lectionary includes a key theme of life from death, nicely illustrated by Jesus’ parable of the grain of wheat. “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). Jesus makes a curious claim in this verse. A literal problem emerges in that grains/seeds don’t die before they germinate. If a seed is dead, then it becomes a dry shell devoid of life.
When interpreted metaphorically rather than literally, Jesus words make sense. A grain may appear dull and lifeless, yet locked within is the marvelous chemistry and biology of life. Under proper conditions (e.g., light, temperature, water), the seed germinates. The details of plan biology aside, the point remains that the seed appears to be dead and lifeless although it is not really that way if it is otherwise viable. The issue is that Jesus was making an analogy between [apparent] death and spiritual life. The promise is that even when people die, they can achieve eternal life, the spiritual equivalent of an apparently dead seed germinating.
Jesus makes a further, dramatic point about death and priorities: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).
This call for radical obedience creates a nest of considerations. Some excuse Jesus’ words as intentional exaggeration, also known as literary hyperbole. In this case, the idea is that Jesus maintains a high standard because he wants people to take God’s calling seriously and aim for the best. If Jesus is exaggerating then he does so to punctuate his intentions and to call his disciples to a higher standard. Jesus understood that being too subtle and soft-spoken risks being overlooked. Without literary drama, people may not have noticed, and Jesus’ new spiritual movement would never have evolved into what it is today.
However literal or not, Jesus’ words highlight heroic spiritual discipleship. In the vulnerable birth stage of Christianity (first-century, occupied Judea), Jesus had to recruit resilient disciples whom he could lead to the point of death. If Jesus allowed half-hearted followers then his new movement would not have had the traction or sustainability to weather the storms of both Jewish and Roman persecution, and the entire enterprise might have collapsed before it attained enduring roots. Hence a question or us latter-day followers of God: what are our priorities and how deep are our spiritual roots? Are we willing to set aside cherished idols of the heart and mid for the sake of serving God?
Jesus demanded self-sacrifice from his earliest followers. This poses a monumental challenge to many people who are suffocated by selfishness and materialistic culture. It can be difficult for people who sit comfortably in a convenience-driven world to serve God in an unimpeded manner. What about sacrificing for the Kingdom of heaven, for the sake of serving the God of love and truth? Ever how you perceive it, love inspires radical obedience and without the accompanying self-sacrifice your life of wellbeing remains elusive.