That God’s desires would be written on our hearts, this is comforting.
That the seed must die in order to produce fruit (that it can’t just painlessly transform into the fruit producing tree): this is not so comforting.
Yet as Jesus approaches his passion, he speaks these words that teach his disciples what could be a painful truth, yet they are words that have inspired and consoled his followers ever since: “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.” How is it that the seed that lets go of itself and dies can become a source of hope, of meaning, for so many? Is it not because it is a truth that we know in our depths, if and when we are willing to go there?
Today’s reading from St. John marks a decisive moment in the Gospel. Jesus’ Passion is about to begin. Jerusalem is filled with people preparing for the festivities of Passover. Yet Jesus knows what is coming as he enters the city. He is aware of what his ministry in the last few years has lead to; he is aware of what therefore will be the consequence. Here in John, Jesus prepares his disciples too to acknowledge what is happening, what will happen to him, but is also preparing them to recognize, and to walk, the path of discipleship.
In the second reading from Hebrews we hear that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered.” “What he suffered” was not only the passion. He learned obedience from “staying the course”...from continuing to proclaim in word and deed God’s longing for a world of truth, of true freedom, of compassion and solidarity with “the least among us”...and continuing to proclaim this when he was questioned, when those who seemed like likely candidates of understanding God’s desire were the very ones questioning him, accusing him of blasphemy, of speaking of God in an outrageous form: as God of life, as God of love. It was not the God of life and love that frightened them, but what this would mean: conversion. Change. It would also require that which is most frightening: confronting and then letting go of a grasp of control over a situation, confronting and letting go of fears, uncertainties, prejudices, immaturity, and a self-reliance that would make a relationship with God unnecessary.
When Scripture tells us that Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered, we understand that he learned obedience by what he lived day in and day out. He learned to HEAR the voice of God, and to distinguish this voice, subtle as it may be, from the voices of those who questioned and accused out of fear. He learned obedience to love, even when that love that would risk healing the broken and saving the lost would bring him condemnation. He was obedient to the point of death. He was obedient to the point of life.
The grain of wheat did not begin to die on Good Friday. The grain of wheat had been giving of itself throughout, and would now do so “to the end.” At the moment where we meet Jesus today, in this intimate preparation for the Passion, Jesus accepts that this is the only way of truth. This is where such “love to the end” would lead him. The love for us that he had consistently chosen would lead him to the completion of that love. The “law” that we hear of from our first reading had already been written on his heart, a law of self-giving love, practiced, rehearsed, consistently chosen, and now well aware of the consequences.
As we draw nearer to Holy Week, the question for us becomes this: Has our lenten journey taught us to “stay the course?” Has it taught us patience? Hope? Has it drawn us to long for God and to share in God’s longings for our world in the midst of the most normal day to day reality of our lives? Have the practices of Lent led us further in love, in a self-giving love in our day to day life? Has our lenten fast revealed to us the real ability to delay gratification in a culture that screams to us of immediate needs and wants? Has our offering, whatever we have given for the benefit of others, been the grain of wheat that produces much fruit? Has it created community in a world so hungry for interconnectedness?
So often we hope for “key moments” that will turn us around, epiphanies that will reveal great truths to us. Yet God has always chosen to work in subtler ways, in the sacredness of daily tasks and conversations that gradually begin to help us to see more fully, that challenge us to reflect and to question more deeply, that invite us to be in the presence of another. It is in the “sacredness of the daily” where we too learn obedience, where we learn not to be afraid neither of the new nor of the ordinary, where we become willing to risk loving in such a way that we might even be accused of being a follower of Christ.
Something is being “written on our hearts” this Lent. May it not remain just a grain of wheat.
Jessica Kerber, ACI
Sister Jessica Kerber is a Handmaid of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an international congregation of women religious with Ignatian Spirituality and a particular Eucharistic charism. This charism and spirituality, as well as personal experience and study, give rise to the desire to allow God to be known “well,” and therefore loved.
Jessica has an education degree from Valparaiso University and a theology degree from Comillas University in Madrid. Before entering Religious Life, Jessica served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps on a reservation in Montana and then taught elementary school. Since entering and completing studies, she has served in her community as Director of Religious Education and is the current director of the community’s retreat center, St. Raphaela Center, outside of Philadelphia. She continues to be involved in ministry among university students and young adults through campus ministry at St. Joseph's University and as an adjunct theology teacher at Villanova University, and finds great joy and grace in accompanying young adults in spiritual direction, especially through the Spiritual Exercises.