Jer 31:31-34; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33
“Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
Jesus said these words after entering Jerusalem where a lot of people, who mistook Him as a political Messiah, welcomed Him. During this time, many Jewish political and religious leaders already were determined to kill Jesus because He was a threat to the status quo. The chief priests and the Pharisees had convinced the Sanhedrin Council that if they allow Jesus to continue doing marvelous signs, people will believe in Him and, as a result, the Romans will come and destroy their holy place and their nation (Jn 11:48). Caiaphas, the high priest had recommended that “it is better to have one man die for the people than to let the whole nation be destroyed” (Jn 11:50).
Jesus was aware that many were out to kill Him (Jn 7:1). Though He was deeply troubled, He also was convinced that the proper time had come: “I have come to this hour to face all this” (Jn 12:27). The Lord understood that His whole life was geared towards this moment when He will make the supreme sacrifice. His coming death will be an act of love, an act of self-oblation. The Book of Hebrews says that Jesus made His offering with tears and cries. “This is how God proclaimed him Priest in the order of Melchisedek” (5:10).
The Lord compared the course of His whole earthly life to that of a grain of wheat, which only by dying can bear much fruit. He lived everyday of His life for others and His death on the cross was the fullness or summit of His self-giving. He loved us until the very end and up to the highest level possible (Jn 13:1). Through His passion, death and resurrection, Jesus brought life to humanity.
During the Lenten Season, the Church reechoes Jesus’ invitation for us to follow Him by taking the way of the cross. “Whoever wants to serve me, let him follow me” (Jn 12:26); “If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Pope Benedict XVI explains that the way of the cross is “the path of losing ourselves, the path of true love.” Every one of us is called to practice self-denial and to be ready to lose life for the good of others.
Ordinarily, we are self-centered people. We only think of our selves and our own good. Self-denial is a big challenge because it is always difficult to abandon ourselves for others. We are afraid that when we start sharing ourselves, our treasures, our time and our talent, we will end up with nothing. Jesus, however, assures us that “Whoever loves his life destroys it, and whoever despises his life in this world keeps it for everlasting life” (Jn 12:25).
Pope Benedict XVI invited us to say this prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, in your burial you have taken on the death of the grain of wheat. You have become the lifeless grain of wheat which produces abundant fruit for every age and for all eternity. From the tomb shines forth in every generation the promise of the grain of wheat which gives rise to the true manna, the Bread of Life, in which you offer us your very self. . . . Help us grow in love and veneration for your Eucharistic mystery – to make you, the Bread of Heaven, the source of our life. Help us to become your “fragrance”, and to make known in this world the mysterious traces of your life. Amen.