As a child, I heard this story from my grandmother. An orphan, a small boy, was left under the care of a wicked step-mother. The step-mother took care of her own children but subjected the orphan to series of maltreatment and torture which included starvation. One day, this step-mother bought some native African apples called udara which is made up of some sizeable tasty seeds and juicy mesocarp. The other children were given the apples to eat, while the orphan sat at a corner watching them savour the fruits with spiteful munching.
When the other children were done with the apples, the wicked step-mother asked the orphan to clean the floor and pack the seeds. He obeyed and while going to throw the seeds into a nearby bush he started crying and recounting the inhumane treatment he had been receiving and particularly the one involving the apples he was not allowed to partake.
Suddenly, the orphan was moved to to sing to the seeds to begin to germinate; suddenly the seeds started to open up and germinate. He went further to ask them to grow and they immediately began to grow into trees! He went further to ask them to begin to bear fruits and it was the case! Waooo! He asked the. fruits to ripe and they got ripened instantly and he asked them to start falling and he got lots and lots of baskets of the udara fruit that he sold many and made so much money and became so rich. Even his wicked step-mother and her children had to come to him to beg for forgiveness and assistance.
This is a typical fairy tale with a ponderable lesson especially for children. I am however more attracted to the dramatic rapid germination of the seeds and their growth into trees bearing fruits than the morale of the story. This will preoccupy us later.
Perhaps a little bit of botany, which is a scientific study of plants, will assist us here. For a seed to germinate, it must pass through some stages. In the first place, there should be moisture (water), good temperature and soil which will be needed later when the plant will begin to make its own food from the sun. For the seed to germinate, the coat will split open and then the tender seedling will come out from the seed embryo. At that point, the seed will be providing food for the young plant until it takes root in the soil.
In the Gospel Reading (John 12:20-33), our Lord Jesus Christ among other things said that unless a grain of wheat falls and dies it remains alone. But when it falls and dies it begins to bear fruits (John 12:24). Our Lord was actually describing the process of seed germination from a religious viewpoint by bringing in the fact of dying which brings about productivity. Our reflection will attempt to connect the First Reading which talked about the New Covenant and the Gospel Reading where our Lord made reference to the grain of wheat that ought to die to produce more.
In the First Reading (Jer. 31:31-34) the prophet talked about a future time when God will make a NEW COVENANT with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This covenant will be different from the one He made with the people when he brought them out of the land of Egypt. We could pause and ask what the nature of the old covenant was and why would there be need for a new one?
The old covenant was made at a location namely, mount Sinai. It was scripted on stone and had to be read to the people from time to time to remind them what God expects from them. In contrast, the new covenant is to be located and written in the hearts and minds of each and every one. In this case, each person qualifies as a bearer of God’s instructions. With the new covenant, there will be no tit-for-tat. With the new covenant the knowledge of God will be more personal and deeper and God’s forgiveness will be more profound.
The fulfilment of the new covenant can be found in Jesus Christ; in fact our Lord Jesus Christ sealed the new covenant with his death and resurrection. That was why in his address to the Greeks who came to see him, our Lord said among other that when he is lifted up, he will draw all men to himself. He was actually trying to tell them that there is still going to be a death and a resurrection (a lifting up). All men will be drawn not to the old but to the new covenant. St. Paul corroborated this by saying that whoever is in Christ is a new creation old things are gone and the new is here (2 Cor.5:17).
The new covenant will emerge from the old just as a new seedling emerges from the old seed. Understood in a personal way, the old in us must die (give way) before the new in us will emerge. At this stage in our Lenten journey, we should have laid the old to rest and allow the new to emerge.
Laying down the old and allowing the new to emerge presupposes obedience in the manner of our Lord Jesus Christ who learnt obedience through suffering as St. Paul indicated in the Second Reading (Heb. 5:7-9). Sometimes, laying down the old takes us through the route of suffering in the manner of our Lord who went through suffering and death before he was lifted up.
Another important lesson we need to learn is from the Greeks who sought to see Jesus Christ. They went to Philip and Philip took them to Andrew, who is known to be “an introducer” (he introduced Simon and the boy with five loaves and two fish to Jesus), and Andrew brought them (with Philip) to Jesus Christ.
The most attractive thing here is the desire of the Greek visitors to meet with Jesus Christ. The word of God said that those who seek the Lord will find Him (Jer. 29:13 see Matt. 7:7). It is most unfortunate in our day and age that we often wish to see all other people and things apart from Jesus Christ. We often wish to see the various material things that make up our world. Imagine how many people who pay millions of dollars all over the world to see a new movie in the box office (which will in a matter of few months become old) on the one hand, and how many people around the world sincerely wish come to see God for worship which is entirely free?
Let us continue to search for the Lord the new covenant and await our own rising and lifting up which will be happening pretty soon. Have a blessed Sunday and a great week ahead.