Tuesday in Holy Week

John 12:20-26

Jesus said, “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.”

“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.”

Jesus knows that he is going to die. He is dreading it. He was, after all, human. We wouldn’t like it if we knew we were to be put to death tomorrow. I once dreamed that I was going to be executed, and I can’t tell you how frightened I was! I was so relieved to wake up and find that it was all a dream.

The farmers were sowing their fields. Jesus knew, perhaps, that he would not live to see the crops grow. But he knew that they would grow. And, more importantly, he knew that they would not grow if they were not sown. If they remained in their basket, they might germinate, but they would rot away almost at once. Or, if they were kept in very dry conditions, they might remain viable for years, but nothing would happen.

The seeds had to die.

The birds, at that time and in that place, were building their nests and laying their eggs. But the eggs couldn’t remain as eggs – they would addle and be no good to anybody. The young birds had to grow inside the eggs, and then they must force their way out or they would die.

Caterpillars were beginning to hatch from the eggs that had been laid, perhaps last summer. They would eat themselves large, and then be transformed into a pupa, where their whole being would dissolve and be remade into something new and different. A beautiful butterfly.

Someone he knew had had a baby lately; Jesus remembered this: “
When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come.

But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. “

Jesus saw all this and knew that from seeming dissolution, God brought new life. He knew that he would have to die, so that new life could come.

Perhaps at that stage he didn’t really know how this would happen. He knew that it must happen, but not how it would.

For him, clinging on to life, no matter how sweet that life, was not to be. “Those who love their life lose it,
and those who hate their life in this world
will keep it for eternal life.”

Not, perhaps “hate” in the sense we know it today – back then, if you wanted to say you preferred broccoli to leeks, you’d say you loved broccoli but hated leeks, even if you were perfectly happy to eat leeks when they were served. But nevertheless, Jesus had to keep a light hold on his life. He was ready to lay it down, because he believed that from that, God would bring forth new life, abundant life. Eternal life.

Jesus saw that from one grain of wheat, a grain of wheat that was buried in the earth and died, came many, many grains. He knew – or he believed he knew – that if he were to die, new life would come to many, many people. He may not have known how this would happen; he does speak of the Father sending the Comforter but he may not have known exactly how this would happen. And he didn’t want to die. The verse after our reading goes: "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

It must have been so scary for Jesus. But he can take heart from the wheat, from the eggs, from the caterpillars. Change hurts. Jesus knew that dying would hurt – especially the sort of death he would face. But he knew, too, that if he went through with it, if he allowed it to happen, God would bring new life from this death.

As, indeed, we believe he did.


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