A Dominican Friar (priest) reflects on the 5th Sunday of Lent
UNLESS A GRAIN OF WHEAT
Jeremiah 31:31-34 Hebrews 5:7-9 John 12:20-33
As we look beyond the potholes in our asphalt roads, the snow piled along our concrete sidewalks, the snow shovels quietly resting on our front porches, and adjust to daylight savings time, we can hope for signs of new life and new growth that come with spring. Soon grass seed will be spread between houses and sidewalks. Corn seed will be sown between barns and field fences. Flower seeds will be planted in gardens and window boxes. There is new hope that seeds planted will produce beautiful lawns, abundant crops, and colorful, fragrant flowers.
I believe Jesus had a similar hope of new life and new growth in the gospel passage we heard today. The story begins with Jesus being welcomed into Jerusalem by the apostles and the followers of Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!” In addition, some Greeks were present and they asked Philip and Andrew, apostles with Greek names, if they could see Jesus.
Because Jesus knows that there are foreigners present, he changes his vocabulary to reach out and touch their hearts. Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man.” He does not speak about himself as “the Son of David.” He does not abruptly dismiss the Greeks with the words that he was sent to save only the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus no longer says that he will be crucified, a Roman punishment reserved for common criminals. He says that he will be glorified.
Some scripture scholars believe that it was the Greeks, who are present only in the gospel of John, who inspired Jesus to use the “grain of wheat analogy”. This is because wheat did not grow well in Greece. Barley and emmer, the kind of wheat that did grow, did not make good bread. Broths, porridges, and mashes were made with these crops. The cities of Greece had to import wheat for bread from Sicily, North Africa, and the northern Black Sea coast. For Jesus to use the analogy of wheat falling to the earth and producing much fruit after it died made agricultural sense to the Jewish people but for the Greeks it was good news that salvation was not only for the people of Israel but for them as well.
The faithful apostles, the following believers, and the inquiring Greeks all knew about the work involved when it comes to growing wheat. Not the work done by the farmer but the transforming work done by the seed. In this one moment of teaching, Jesus challenged all who heard him to be open to change, to be willing to change, to bring about change, out of love for one another.
We know that Jesus used a number of different ways to teach the people he encountered. He told parables to reach his followers at a variety of levels. He also taught through his exhortations. He would gather all those who came to hear him, or sometimes just a select few, and teach them important truths about a variety of things. Jesus also taught spontaneously as we heard in the passage today. But the most powerful teaching done by Jesus was the lessons he taught by his example. In other words, Jesus made a point of living according to the will of God.
In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola calls God’s will the deepest desire of our hearts that God plants in us. Jim Manney unpacks this for us: “’Desire is a key way that God’s voice is heard in our lives,’ writes Fr. Jim Martin, SJ. He’s not talking about selfish wants, such the desire for a flashy car or a lavish vacation. He means deep desires–the desires that draw us to God and to a meaningful vocation in life: Desire is a primary way that God leads people to discover who they are and what they are meant to do. On the most obvious level, a man and a woman feel sexual, emotional and spiritual desire for one another, and in this way discover their vocations to be married. A person feels an attraction to being a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher, and so discovers his or her “vocation. . . .”
The deep longings of our hearts are our holy desires. Not only desires for physical healing, but also the desires for change, for growth, for a fuller life. Our deepest desires, those desires that lead us to become who we are, are God’s desires for us. They are ways that God speaks to you directly” (https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/5653/our-deepest-desires).
With this Ignatian understanding of God’s will, we are a grain of wheat falling to the ground to produce much fruit.