A Biologist's Reflection on John 12:24

By Sister Jeanene Yackey

As I read this passage, the biologist in me says no—a dead seed is dead—it will not produce anything. There must be a different meaning to this statement.

The grain of wheat is a seed with the potential to become a whole plant that is fruitful. What happens when a grain of wheat falls into the earth? It becomes one with the earth—one with the environment with its moisture, nutrients, protection and support. So what does it mean that the grain of wheat dies? It dies—it gives up its “seedness,” it is no longer recognizable as a seed, it becomes something different, it is transformed.

Some seeds are too well protected and must be freed of layers of protection. For these seeds, the covering must be physically cracked or scarified before water can be absorbed. If it is viable, it opens to the new environment; takes in moisture, swells, splits the husk, shell or coat; establishes roots in the protective soil; takes in nutrients and grows into a mature plant and bears fruit. Growth is sustained as long as the plant remains in contact with the nutrient environment and produces new seeds to be dispersed.

In this parable, Jesus is saying I must die to self in order to be transformed. Yet, in another parable, He says the seed must fall on “good” ground. To be transformed the seed/plant must have the proper environment. What is the proper environment for the self to be transformed?

The environment includes: the love of God, the waters of baptism, the hardships of life that crack open the shell of selfishness and reveal one’s vulnerability and finitude, the love and nurturing of family, community and friends, the experiences of life, the blessings of faith, the sacraments and ordinary daily living.

What does this mean for me?

I must lose my protective covering and die to self—the false self—and allow the true self to grow. I must be rooted in God and respond to my environment—take in those things that encourage growth. I must lose the protective covering—fears, false knowledge of self—whatever keeps me from God.

What does this mean for our congregation?

We need to let go of our protective coverings—the familiar that holds us back. We need to move out into the unfamiliar in order to be available for whatever God wants us to be. We need to be open to new growth in new areas, new ways. We need to be open to the next step whatever it is.