Unless a Seed Falls . . .
On many occasions Our Lord expressed the paradox that death is necessary for life. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone,” He said. “But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). Even more paradoxically, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39; cf. Mt 16:25, Mk 8:35, Lk 9:24, Lk 17:33). Saint Paul draws a strong parallel in the daily life of all committed Christians:
We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Cor 6:8-10)
These thoughts, expressing at once both specific circumstances and universal realties, capture the Paschal Mystery—the Passion and Death of Christ which leads to His Resurrection, and the universal Christian experience of Easter. “Destroy this temple,” Our Lord claimed, “and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19; cf. Mt 27:63, 28:7, Mk 14:58). And for us: “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32).
We naturally think of the Resurrection when we contemplate the Passion; thus does our Lord teach us to expect triumph when we experience tragedy. And we know that Our Lord’s triumph includes our own, not only because He has said so, but as a matter of factual record, for “the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His Resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Mt 27:52-53). That’s a historical detail we too often forget.
But so often we look in all the wrong places for triumph, and seek all the wrong forms of success. “Truly, truly,” Our Lord cautioned, “unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3). Because in countless ways we refuse to be born again, we often don’t see it. We pray about it, we hope for it with some part of ourselves, but we don’t see it as a present reality. We fail to live in its reality; in so many ways, it does not transform our lives.
It is, after all, a bit frightening to be a falling seed, and more frightening still to feel the earth close over our heads. And so we too often distrust this paradox of death and life. We resist its inexorable logic. Are we really willing to forego all the wages of sin? Perhaps we mean to, but not quite yet.
Let us not grow smug. Jesus was speaking to all of us when he said: “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Lk 11:29; cf. Mt 16:4). Despite this harsh announcement, even His most faithful followers still sought Him in the tomb. And so do we, surely we do—in our weakness, our betrayals, our half-measures, our nearly infinite ability to hold back.
Perhaps this is why our merciful Lord sends His angel. Then and now, again and again, more times than we care to admit, He has sent His angel to ask us the one question that matters, the one question we repeatedly get wrong, and the only question we must ultimately get right: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Lk 24:5)
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Posted by: dover beachcomber -
Jan. 16, 2018 12:29 AM ET USA
John, your view of the lives of the Medieval peasantry “pre-Luther” was broadly held by scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries, but no longer. It may be true enough about late antiquity and the early Middle Ages; but by the 1300’s serfdom was on the wane in much of Europe. Luther himself had little love for the German peasantry, whose revolt in the 1520’s he advised the nobility to suppress with ferocious cruelty.
Posted by: Thomas V. Mirus -
Jan. 10, 2018 8:11 PM ET USA
John: Yes, and yet scholastic thought and ecclesiastical law still placed restrictions on exploiting others (i.e. through usury) to gain wealth, and gain of wealth was not practically revered as a virtue in itself as would become the case after the "reforms".
Posted by: John J Plick -
Jan. 10, 2018 12:31 PM ET USA
I am curious what exactly what is meant by "mammon bursting from its chains entirely.." As I recall under many Catholic monarchies during the Middle Ages (pre-Luther) there was a feudal system in place where many were consigned to a life of abject poverty & ignorance, virtual slaves to the local noble and uneducated to the point where they could not have even read the Bible (if indeed it was even translated out of the Latin vulgate..) As for a life of radical poverty, John XXII suppressed that..