On a shelf by the mudroom window is a packet of seeds. Purple, red and pink hollyhocks flourish on the cover and provide nectar to the visiting bees. For five years, now, I’ve gazed at that picture and dreamt of hollyhocks nodding along the side wall of the house. Five years! Somehow I never have the nerve to plant them. To begin with, preparing the soil there would be a massive job. But really, I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid of weeds and deer and rabbits. I’m not sure I have it in me to grow such beautiful things. And I’m afraid the dream will die.
Those seeds came to mind when I read the Sunday gospel for this week (John 12:20-33). Jesus has just entered Jerusalem for the last time, lauded like a returning king by his countrymen. Now some Greeks want to see him, too. They want in on the glory! And yes, it’s time for his glorification, he says. But it’s not going to look anything like anyone imagines:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,” Jesus tells them, “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.”
It occurs to me how easy it is to settle for the picture on the package, the trappings instead of the real thing.
In the case of my seeds – there’s risk involved, and pain and dirt and bother. Nothing like what is required of Christ (or of those who follow him), but still. What is so very evident when I step back and look at my seeds is how far the benefits outweigh the cost! A handful of tiny brittle seeds that look like bits of dirt, they’re good for nothing else – but plant them properly, and glorious life explodes from inside! How foolish it is for me to try to satisfy my longing with a picture, when I could have real flowers to see and touch and smell and harvest for the house and plant again.
Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death. Like the time a seed spends in the ground, that looks like loss. Yet the planting of a seed is full of hope, as the planting of that Cross will carry hope. “I am troubled now,” Jesus says. But this is why he came! If he doesn’t die, he’ll be useless like a seed left on a shelf. But if he dies—all kinds of life will come. For the Jews and also for the Greeks. For you and me, as well. And when we die with him, we also live with him. That is the glorious payoff.
The Christian life is hard, and Jesus doesn’t gloss it over. Anyone who thinks following Christ will erase all pain in this life, has another think coming. Just look at the Second Reading this week, Hebrews 5:7-9. Jesus prayed and cried his eyes out to God who could save him from death, “and he was heard.” But he wasn’t saved from the cross! Yet planted there, he “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
The only way Christ bears this fruit of salvation is by dying first. He wants us to see that about himself so we’re not afraid or scandalized by his death, but also to give us hope when we face our own crosses in this life. Instead of reading what he says in this gospel and fearing what might come our way, let’s read it for the certain future hope it holds (see vss. 24-26):
- True, we must die, like a hollyhock seed or a grain of wheat — but that’s what allows us spring to life and and become fruitful
- True, he says we must “hate” our life in this world — but by doing so, we will preserve it for eternal life
- True, we must serve Jesus rather than our own desires — but then God will honor us (!)
- True, serving Jesus means going where he goes, even to the Cross — but then we will also be where he is, even in heaven where he has gone ahead to make a place for us (John 14:3)
Jesus, thank you for this image of the seed that dies in order to yield life. Help me not to settle for a picture of what might be, but rather to hate my earthly life and take up my cross for the glories that you promise are to come.
© 2018 Sarah Christmyer
Hi, thank you for this post. I hear hating our earthly life so much, what does it mean? How do we hate this life and take up out crosses?
Sarah Christmyer says
Edowaye, it’s hard to answer this quickly but I will try. In this verse, “hating” our life in this world means not giving it ultimate value or thinking too much of it, because in contrast to eternal life in heaven, it’s not worth a lot. Here is something that St. John Paul II said that you might find helpful:
“Take up his cross daily and follow me”. As the cross can be reduced to being an ornament, “to carry the cross” can become just a manner of speaking. In the teaching of Jesus, however, it does not imply the pre-eminence of mortification and denial. It does not refer primarily to the need to endure patiently the great and small tribulations of life, or, even less, to the exaltation of pain as a means of pleasing God. It is not suffering for its own sake that a Christian seeks, but love. When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving. To carry it behind Christ means to be united with him in offering the greatest proof of love.
If you want to read the rest of what he says, here is a link: MESSAGE OF THE HOLY FATHER TO THE YOUTH OF THE WORLD ON THE OCCASION OF THE XVI WORLD YOUTH DAY
I hope that is helpful. Blessings!
Arlita M Winston says
This brought back the memory of when I brought you hollyhock seeds that had fallen on the ground from Giverny, Rodin’s gardens! They were glorious! That was years ago! You planted them by that rock wall. . .but then moved away. These words were beautifully spoken, and refreshed me! Lord! Give us a clearer vision of Who YOU really are!