Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, amen, I say to you, 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. (Jn:12:24).
In reading this verse, I was transported back to Middle School. Our sixth-grade class was dismissed to head to the cafeteria for the Science Fair. As I drew closer I could hear some unintelligible chanting going on. Of course, I was curious and craned my neck to see over the other students filing in as we entered our destination. As I drew closer and saw a circle of kids taunting and circling someone, I stopped. I heard muffled groans and then saw one of my friends standing in the center of the circle, his forearms pulled up to cover his face. No one was laying a hand on him, but the heckling was inflicting enough damage. I froze not knowing what to do or how to act.
I don’t remember how the situation was resolved, but I do remember how badly I felt that day, and still do for not doing anything. I also withdrew from my friend when I saw him later because I felt so bad for not speaking up or stepping in. I wasn’t there for him as he was harassed nor did I provide comfort later because I was still only thinking of myself, my shame, and not his feelings or his need. That day, I remained just a grain of wheat that did not fall to the ground and die. I was unwilling to die to myself, unwilling to stand up for my friend, and unwilling to provide any comfort.
When we find ourselves in situations when another human being’s dignity is being diminished, Jesus implores us to resist loving our life, assessing first our own self-interest, or we will lose it. Instead, we are to “hate our life” in this world (cf. Jn 12:25) by thinking of others first, instead of ourselves.
We will be in a better position to serve as Jesus did when we are willing to die to self, like the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies. We will grow and mature to bear fruit as God’s mouthpiece, when we speak truth to power, work to change systems in our culture and society that oppress and devalue others, prevent and defend attacks against the dignity of people. As we strive for change within ourselves, others, and society, we need to also, at the same time, accompany and provide support, person to person, for those who have been ignored, disrespected, devalued, objectified, or abused in any way.
Jesus, please grant us the courage to love, to will the good of the other. Give us the eyes to see and the ears to hear the cry of the poor; those who are demeaned, belittled, or dehumanized. Holy Spirit, inspire us to to be that grain of wheat that dies to our own self-centered and fallen self, such that we are not just silent bystanders. Loving God and Father, empower us to stand, speak up, and act on behalf of the dignity of those who are vulnerable, those who do not have access, and/or the avenue to speak up for themselves.
Painting by Bernardo Strozzi of St Lawrence, the third-century deacon and martyr. Lawrence was asked by the Roman prefect to bring the wealth of the church to help maintain the Roman army. Three days later, Lawrence returned with the blind and lame, lepers, orphans, and widows and said to the prefect, “These are the treasure of the Church.” St Lawrence on this your feast day, pray for us!