I was listening to a sermon Sunday, and suddenly the phrase "grain of wheat" struck me and wouldn't go away. I have been struggling with the adjustment from employment to retirement. It's the hardest adjustment I have ever faced. Going from a lifetime of challenging jobs, supervising people, solving problems, having a purpose and goal every day, to...what?
Now nobody cares if I get up in the morning. Nobody cares how I spend my day. And from my perspective, the matter of my own significance is undecided. I want to be significant. I want my life to matter, to make a difference. It's too hard not to have something important as the outcome.
And then comes this "grain of wheat" stuff. What's that about, anyway? Who is the grain, and what are the implications of the grain dying?
Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.
And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him (John 12:20-26).
At first reading, of course, the grain of wheat Jesus refers to is himself. He is getting close to his death, and he knows it. He's trying to prepare and teach his followers. And yet, I wonder if there's something more.
Jesus came for two reasons: To reveal the Father to us. And to die. That's it. And I think the two go together. Can't have one without the other.
But what about me? Does all that matter to me? After all, Jesus was here a long time ago.
But Jesus said that he was sending his followers as the Father had sent him (John 20). That includes me, it seems. Paul wrote that God has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation, making his appeal to the world through us (II Corinthians 5). That certainly includes me.
So, is God telling me I need to reveal the Father and Jesus to the world through my life? Seems so. And more, it seems they are saying I am their living, talking representative wherever I go. That's the purpose of my life.
But surely God isn't telling me that, like Jesus, I am here to die. I mean, I'll die, and I know that. But probably not as a sacrifice for someone's sin. After all, the sacrifice of Jesus was a once and for all event. Won't happen again and doesn't need to. So it's clear that God is not calling me to do that.
Except it seems to me there's more than one way to die. I can die physically, which is what we usually think of. Or I can "die to myself," to my selfish ways, my insistence on controlling and running my own life. My own insistence on significance.
I think it's saying that if I would truly be a follower of Jesus, and truly have something important and credible to say to the world, I must die. I must die to myself, considering my life unworthy of concern. No concern with "significance." Sort of like when Paul said that he considered all his considerable achievements as excrement. Less than nothing.
This is a disturbing idea, since significance is one of our most central longings. But I think it's a matter of perspective. Seeing things from my perspective gives a vastly distorted view of reality, and of my own importance. It's like looking at a vast landscape through a tiny hole in a piece of cardboard. What I see might be interesting, even attractive, but I would immediately lose interest if the board were removed and I could see the bigger picture.
When we look at the world and our circumstances through our own eyes, from our own perspective, we get only a crude distortion of reality. But we do it routinely, and then spend much of our lives chasing that distorted, warped idea of reality.
We need to take the cardboard away, and look at things from a different - a better - perspective. We need to see things "from the other side of the sky," from God's perspective. Only then will circumstances and events make sense. And only as we die to ourselves will life make sense and will we encounter true significance.
So, let's see. If I want a truly satisfying, significant life, I have to consider all my hopes, my dreams, my longings as junk. Everything I can imagine becomes unworthy of my attention.
Pretty heavy idea.
The question, it seems to me now, is whether I really want to follow Jesus as much as I think I do. Am I really willing to die - I mean really consider my life as dead - to myself?
That's the question. My will or God's? Do I really believe I will be a grain of wheat, bringing forth great quantities of "fruit" if I die?