Ax + Sword: Lenten Commentary 2018
When I was a child I had a little garden in my backyard. Thankfully my mother was fine with me trying lot of things like that. We had chickens. We had rabbits. We had flowers and vegetables.
The problem was never growing things. That was the easy part. I would go out and plant the different seeds or small plants in nice little rows. My favorites were tomatoes, banana peppers, and corn. I loved watching the corn stalks take form. They were magical to think all that came from such a small seed. The peppers and tomatoes were exciting to watch as the small flowers changed into something that grew until it was ripe and ready for harvest. The corn was bit trickier for me.
I don’t think I ate any of my corn that first summer. I was so impatient that I kept picking ears of corn before they were ready. They looked alright from the outside, but then once I shucked the corn I could see they didn’t look like the corn from the farm. Oh, the agony of gardening!
Jesus shares an interesting phrase with us, “…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.” (John 12:24) Why would Jesus make the act of farming sound so violent – does grain really have to die?
I have been thinking about this in two ways. First, grain dies when it is planted in hopes of what will come. The seeds that we plant in our gardens or minds or hearts, will eventually become what they were destined to become. A pumpkin seed makes pumpkins; an apple seed makes and apple tree. Love and mercy do the same. The goal is to grow something. Second, grain dies when it is destroyed, ground up into something else, something different. This happens all the time to seeds and grain to make flours and cornmeal and ultimately something new.
I think Christians might be drawn to certain moments in the life-cycle of plants. Maybe the church has the same nuanced concern as well. For most of my life I have heard about the need to send out laborers for the harvest is plentiful. This is very motivating, and I’m sure contributed to my vocational call, but it’s only one part of the plan. Since Easter is coming soon, we should be thinking about Spring. After all, the words Lent and Easter both point to the lengthening of days and celebrations in Spring. It’s time to be planting, not worrying about reaping or harvesting.
It makes sense that agricultural communities need to focus on both the planting and the harvesting, but maybe we have forgotten our Christian roots (no pun intended!) for this joyous celebration to come: Easter. Since it must be celebrated in Spring, Easter is all about new life. The season dictates that reality. We should be more focused on the planting, the growing of something new and wonderful, trusting that what we plant will indeed grow into what they are designed to become.
Our lives are so much like simple seeds. We can remain the same for years and years like seeds in a packet. It’s not until we are changed can we become something else, something greater than ourselves. We can be planted where the elements have to coax us out of hard outer shell to grow upwards to the light. Or we can be ground up and formed into something new. Maybe our true self isn’t lost in this process, but we certainly do become more hidden.
If this reality can be for us as individuals, can we also apply it to the church today? Are we willing to be God’s people enthusiastically sharing the seed of God in our world? Jeremiah the prophet tells us that someday we will not need to teach others about God because God will be known to all people because of forgiveness. God is already planted in the heart of every human being.
We are destined for great things if only we would die, change, and be transformed by the mercy of God. Can we use this Spring for something new and not worry about the future?
Fr. Ross Miceli, M.Div., S.T.B., is pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Kersey and Campus Minister at Elk County Catholic in St. Marys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or comments.