I have in my hand a seed. It has a seed coat to protect it. This little dot is called the micropyle, a little hole through which water can enter. Inside there is almost everything the plant needs to begin growing. There is a little embryo root and embryo shoot, and the cotyledons, the little first leaves that appear that have some nutrients in them to begin the plant growing. Finally, there is the DNA within each cell that tells which cells when to reproduce where and how to organize themselves.
On a seed packet there are many bits of information. Of course, it indicates what kind of plant the seeds come from and should produce. There are instructions for how deep in the ground to plant the seed and how far apart, when to plant it. Also, you may see some information about germination rate. That is how many seeds are apt to germinate and grow out of 100. Not all seeds become plants, after all. Conditions must be right: Seeds shouldn’t sit around your house for years and years, they need water, light, soil, and conditions free from being trampled, eaten, or attacked by disease.
The people of Israel had been growing a healthy garden. Their seeds had been developed over years in the wilderness, watered and fed by God, nourished with the commandments and their experiences together. They had grown strong. So when they came to the rich soil of Canaan, they were very excited. But they got greedy and they forgot the commandments. People were not caring for each other. They lost faith in God. They forgot to trust God. So their crops began to fail, their seeds weren’t germinating. It wasn’t that God was punishing them, but because the commandments were actually rules to grow a lush garden, and when they stopped following those rules, their garden went to ruin. So when the Babylonian thorns came marching in, the Israelite garden was vulnerable and the people were carted off to other lands to live in captivity. The garden was covered over with rocks, and the rain didn’t fall, and the seeds languished beneath the soil, waiting and wondering if they would ever grow again.
During this time of captivity, after the Babylonians had conquered them and taken them as prisoners, the Israelites reflected on why they were not growing as they used to, how they found themselves in this situation. They wanted to remember their history, so they started to write it down. They started to reflect on how they had come to this point. They started thinking of how God might have been feeling about their previous actions. They felt sorry for what they’d done. And they also started to feel hopeful. They reflected on when their own children went astray and how tenderly they felt toward them. They knew that God was the most loving parent, so God must be heartbroken and hopeful for a restored relationship. They started to feel the soil warming and sense the presence of moisture. And they felt God renewing the covenant. They remembered God and that God had never abandoned them.
The people thought of the law, the gardening rules God had given them to help them to grow. They had always thought of those as burdensome, an imposition from the outside, pushed upon them, written on their seed coat, like the booth at the State Fair where you can get your name written on a grain of rice. But the people realized during the captivity how good the commandments had been for them, and looked forward to a time when the people would internalize the commandments, when it would be part of their DNA, what makes them who they are. They realized that God was looking forward to that time, as well, when it would be automatic, second nature to be connected through the covenant, one family, with one set of values internalized by the community.
As the community of the Hebrews tried to figure out who Jesus was for them, in the second reading, they realized that he was both a king and a priest. Priest-Kings were few and far between, but there was one example from long ago in the Psalms, Melchizedek, whose name means King of Righteousness. To be a king is to give the rules. To be a priest is to examine and affect the deepest values held by a community. One is to affect the outer conditions, the soil, the light, the water, the nutrients. The other is to affect what is inside the seed, the health of the little root, the little leaves, the strength of the stem, and so forth inside the seed coat. So Jesus came in the order of Melchizedek to affect us both on the outside and the inside and to come to us as God from afar, Creator of all living things, but to live among us and know intimately the struggles of growth and of life and of death.
Jesus speaks in the Gospel of the seed, the grain of wheat falling to the earth and dying, so that it can do so much more than just be a grain of wheat. He was already producing fruit, as evidenced by the Greeks coming to him and wanting to see him. He was already drawing people to him from far outside the approved garden gate. As the logos, the word spoken at Creation, Jesus already had to let go of so much to come and live among us with limits. He gave up all his powers to be a little old seed in the garden with the rest of us. He gave up any rights he might have had, any privileges, to be a humble guy who talked to children, and fallen women, and people who were sick, and people who were full of themselves and thought they knew everything. He talked to people who had seed coats as hard as nails, who weren’t going to let anything in, because they were everything they wanted to be, and thought they ever could be. But Jesus knew there is more to the story, because God is writing the story, not us. Jesus knew that life is more than we imagine it to be. He knows that for humans, just like for plants, death is not the end, but we go on, not just individuals, but communities.
He knows we get stuck in one part of the life cycle and we want to bask in the sun forever. But that is not our purpose. Our purpose is to follow Jesus through the cycle of life, to serve Jesus, to let go of all we have known so that we can take hold of eternal life. Our purpose is to give glory to God. It is our temptation to believe that we are self-contained, that we can bloom all day long, a single flower high up on a stalk. But Jesus reminds us that we must let go as a community to ideas that we will be glorified, that will be independent, that we will live in perpetuity the way we always have. Because when we refuse to let go, we cannot take on the new vision, the new life, the abundant life that Jesus has in mind, and we refuse to share the life that Christ shares with us with the whole community.
This seed I hold is us. We think we ought to be blooming. We think we must live the same way we always have. We don’t want to be a humble, boring seed. We don’t want to be buried in the soil. We don’t want to fall to the earth. We don’t want to follow Jesus. But we will. We will fall. We will lie in the darkness. But we won’t be alone and we won’t be there forever, because Jesus is there with us, and he knows our full potential, he knows what and who we are better than we are. God has it written all over us this beautiful relationship of God and people, of forgiveness and communication, of the life that really is life.
We live in a garden. It is a garden where tall weeds shade out parts, where disease runs rampant, where little plants are trampled, where gates and fences keep us separated from each other, where.
God has a vision of a garden where all the parts are interconnected and symbiotic, in which plants that supply the nutrients that other plants need will be planted together, where the soil is rich, the light plentiful, the full variety of plants co-exist, and the water isn’t wasted but shared. It is a garden that by its very existence gives praise to God by its colors, its flavors, its scents, the insect life it supports. It’s leaves face the sun, wherever it moves. Its blossoms bring joy. Its seeds fall, rest, germinate, and grow again, in a dance that gives glory to God. May we find joy in the dance, in the garden, in the palm of God’s hand, in the growing, in the dying, in the reaching and the living. And may we be drawn to Jesus, our farmer, with all the others in this garden to give praise to the one that gives life to all.