When I was a child, my mom used to say "Now, listen to me" whenever she wanted to get my attention. She usually reserved this for the times when she had something pretty important to tell me. It wasn't the regular stuff, like "do the dishes" or "put on clean socks" she was going to tell me. It was something of a deeper, more life-altering purpose. In fact, it usually began as "Now, listen to me" whenever she either needed something particular FROM me or she needed me to get something particular FROM her. There was an exchange about to happen - so she asked I tune it a little better and focus. Isn't this one of the hardest things for us to do? Focus is challenging because it means we have to shut out the rest of the distractions around us - and heaven knows, there are many!
Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. (John 12:24-25 MSG)
Jesus uses this term as he speaks with his disciples on the road to the cross. He asks them to "listen carefully" - focus their attention on what he is about to say - because it is something they need to hear FROM him. He begins with the word "unless" - here he is about to set up a condition which must occur before anything else can. He doesn't want them to miss out on the truth he is about to reveal - so he tells them to tune up their hearing. It is kind of like mom saying, "Now, listen to me". Focus is nothing more than the point toward which attention is directed. Even when we say we "focus" a lens on a camera, it is adjusted so as to take in what it is we are directing our attention toward. As Jesus begins, he requires this "adjustment" to occur - otherwise, the disciples would miss it. The truth is - we all need some "adjustment" if we are to be more aware of what Jesus is teaching!
Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground... Jesus is not giving a lesson in how to produce a crop of wheat here - but he will use this idea to illustrate the law of sowing and reaping. What does the sower really do? He sacrifices the grain he has in order to see the production of grain ten or even a hundredfold. The grain is sacrificed in order to provide - it is given to give again. In the action of the farmer planting the seed, the action begins the process of growth which he anticipates will end in a harvest.
In looking at this, Jesus is indeed speaking of the laying down of his own life for the many lives he will harvest by the shedding of his life - those who will trust in his shed blood of a means of reconciliation with the Lord God. A means of "covering over" their sin - so they can approach a holy God. Yet, in the lesson, there is much meaning for each of us as we look upon our own lives.
The grain must first go through a process of death in order to produce life. This seems a little off, doesn't it? Death must occur in order for life to be produced? Think about it. Where does growth begin in your life? Isn't it at the point of of death? Something we hold onto has to die in order for the newness of growth to come forth. The seed is only free to produce what it is designed to produce once it begins the process of death! Growth comes in our lives, not in holding onto the seed, but in laying it down. The sower has to part with the seed in order to see it produce the harvest. The same is true in our lives - we have to part with what we hold onto so tightly in order to allow it to die. As it begins to die, there is something of life actually being produced!
The grain goes through a metamorphosis of sorts - the breaking down of the seed actually begins to produce the beauty of growth - the growth brings a promise of a harvest. The importance of where the seed is sown is another topic of discussion Jesus had with is disciples at an earlier time. The planting process is a matter of focus - being attentive to put the seed where it will have the greatest opportunity for unhindered growth is important. As the seed is planted - there is as much importance in what surrounds the seed as in the fact it is out of the hands of the one sowing it. As it leaves the hand of the sower, it takes on the care and tending of the soil in which it is planted. There, it breaks down. The beginning of the harvest is in this breaking down of the hardness of the outer portion of the seed. There is much to be said about the breaking down of the hard areas of our lives - in allowing the soil of God's Word to impact our "seed" we might just begin to find the breaking down of the toughness of the "seed".
The grain dies - not because the sower did not care about it - but because the farmer cared more about the potential in the seed. Jesus is that way - he cares about the potential in each of us. If he ever requires us to lay down some "seed" in our lives, it is because he is asking us to focus not on the sacrifice of the seed as much as on the bounty of its harvest. The process of the sowing is both sacrificial and painful. The process of growth is hard - but the promised bounty makes all the sacrifice and pain in the process worth it all!
We can hold onto the seed God asks us to part with - to sow into the care of his good soil. But...in holding onto the seed, we may never see the potential within the seed. All growth costs us something - the sower knows this. Harvest comes not in holding onto the seed, but in letting it go. Just sayin!