By: Rev. Paul Scalia
At the beginning of Holy Week, Jesus places an image in the minds of the disciples to describe and explain the coming events: “Amen, amen, I say to you, 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” (Jn 12:26). This one verse illuminates both the doctrine of the Paschal Mystery and how we are to live it.
The grain of wheat must give itself up to a kind of death in order to bear fruit. Its dying is the principle and cause of new life. The seed must allow itself to be penetrated by the earth, yielding itself to the invasion of the soil and the power of its nutrients. Only through this dying comes new life. Of course, this all sounds quite painful, and the grain would cry out if it could. But it must happen. And if the seed hardens itself against the pain of this dying, if it refuses to give way to the soil, then it remains “just a grain of wheat.” Or, according to another translation, it remains “alone.”
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies… Jesus is describing Himself. The relation between our Lord’s death and resurrection is not chronological but causal. We believe that through His death He rose to new life. His death is the principle and cause of this new life. He yielded Himself to the Father’s will and all it contained – the betrayal and denial, torture and ridicule, scourging and crowning, nailing and piercing. He allowed Himself to be pierced. And without that yielding to the soldier’s lance, new life does not flow from His side.
St. Paul says, He was “obedient to death, even death on a cross.” And the Apostle continues: “Because of this, God greatly exalted him…” (Phil 2:8-9). Not merely after, but because. This is the heart of our doctrine: Jesus’ death merits the Resurrection, both His and ours. His death is the perfect atoning sacrifice, which alone pays the debt of sin and loosens us from the bonds of death, the ultimate debtors prison. “He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed” (Is 53:5).
Our participation in this mystery follows the same pattern: “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.” Unlike that grain of wheat, we must knowingly and willingly choose to fall to the ground and to die. What does this mean?
It means, first of all, a kind of burial. Just as the grain must become unseen, so what gives us life is unseen. We must be attentive not to the surface but to the interior. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). This requires suffering a certain neglect or scorn from the world – being overlooked by those whom the world deems important. It brings the mortification of not having, prizing or seeking what everyone else values and esteems. It means becoming, like the grain of wheat, buried. We must become part of the earth – humus in Latin. Thus it means humility, even humiliation.
Being like a grain of wheat means giving way to God so that life can come. As the grain does to the soil, so we yield ourselves to God’s initiative, to the grace and truth of Christ. We have to give way to Him and allow His grace to break and penetrate us, to determine our thoughts, words, and actions. It demands yielding to His truth – not insisting on our own, self-enclosed way of thinking but giving way to His doctrine, which both breaks us but also frees us for a greater reality. If we refuse to give way to what is asked of us, then we render ourselves sterile, incapable of bearing fruit.
Unlike the grain of wheat, we have free will. We can refuse all this. We can harden ourselves to the soil that seeks to break into us and render us fruitful. And if we do so, if we refuse be buried (humbled) and reject any dying to ourselves, then we remain just a grain of wheat…alone. Intimacy in relationships only comes by this burial and death. New life comes only from the choice not to insist on oneself, from the decision to yield ourselves to God’s will, truth, and grace.
The pattern of our Lord’s life-giving death and glorious Resurrection is ours as well. May we imitate Him in humble obedience, willingly being buried and yielding ourselves to Him – so that through such a death we may bear much fruit.