"...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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me."There is, throughout our lives, a constant temptation to cling to what we have. We become hoarders - hoarding items and trinkets, money and power, status and reputation - and we cling feverishly to these things. A mantra for many in our age is I am what I own.
Many of my students might change this mantra to I am what I scored. It is a constant temptation for our students to cling to their test scores as defining them as they are, to allow their GPA's to dictate their sense of self. When an I is defined by a test score or grade, it is little wonder that so many students feel such pressure and stress.
As I read today's Gospel, I can't help but to think that the 100+ grains of wheat I teach directly each day need to be encouraged to plunge into the soil. Until they are dropped into the furrows of the earth, furrows cut by struggle and sometimes failure, they will never taste any form of success. Those who are willing to risk being covered over by the dirt have the opportunity to break free of their husks, to die to their immature selves, and grow into the young man each one has the potential to be. Rather than being insulated from the muck and mire of daily life, he bursts open and sinks deep roots in search of nutrients and turns his face skyward for energy.
A farmer would never demur at the suggestion that he plant his seeds. Sure, some wheat needs to be ground down and turned into bread. Other seed, however, must be planted again to perpetuate the crop. A seed thrown into the earth, covered over, and given time will oftentimes flourish provided the right environment. Ironic, isn't it, that seeds seem so readily and without cost do what comes natural to them when we spend billions of dollars on special programs to give children what we regard as special advantages. Kids don't need seminars on how to be leaders...they just need to play with other kids and allow leadership to emerge of its own accord.
Perhaps the moral of today's story encourages us to take risks, to get dirty, and to trust that the forces of nature that draw bountiful harvests from single grains of wheat can also act upon us if we allow them to do so. Rather than shielding ourselves from the risks of growth and maturing, rather than clinging to the lives as we lead them now, we must find it within ourselves to surrender, to enter the darkness, and be reborn.