Of all scriptural discoveries of the past century, it is The Gospel of the Savior which I most wish were complete. It is sad to think of what was lost, but we can celebrate with joy what has been preserved. It retains the spiritual flavor of the Gospel of John. In it Jesus refers to his disciples as “my seeds, who are blessed”. This is a critically important passage: in it Jesus acknowledges the capacity of his disciples for growth, and by extension our growth as well. It fits well with the New Testament references to planting, growth, and the harvest. There are few more powerful analogies than these for the spiritual life, and we benefit by considering them.
The best known passage is the parable of the mustard seed. It is so well-known and popular that people even wear little pendants containing a mustard seed around their necks to remind them of its truth. It occurs in Matthew 13:31-32, with parallel passages in Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19. Here is the quote from Matthew in the Jerusalem Bible Version: “He put another parable before them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter [King James Version “come and lodge”; Revised Standard Version “make nests”; Vulgate “dwell”] in its branches.” Growth and the potential for growth, starting from something very small, is a thing of wonder. It is all around us in springtime, when we see packets of annual flowers and vegetables abundantly displayed in the seed racks of hardware stores and nurseries. We are encouraged to try our hand at coaxing the growth from them and to appreciate their growth as it passes in stages through the season. Does it remind us of our spiritual growth as well? The connection to our inner life is not hard to make.
Then we have the grain of wheat. This takes on a different, and equally important, meaning. In John 12:23-26 Jesus foretells his death and subsequent glorification. [For those who wish to read further, parallel and related passages are contained in Matthew 10:37-39; 16:24-26; 19:21-29; Mark 8:34-38; 10:23-30; and Luke 9:23-26; 14:26-27; 17:33; 18:24-30]: Again, in the Jerusalem Bible Version “Jesus replied to them: ‘Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honor him.’ ” [KJV, RSV, Vulgate “Except a corn (grain) of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth (remains) alone; but if it die, it bringeth (brings) forth much fruit. He that loveth (who loves) his life shall lose (loses) it; and he that hateth (who hate) his life in this world shall keep (will keep, keeps) it unto life eternal (for eternal life, life everlasting).”] If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my [RSV “the”] Father will honor him.’ ” [KJV “If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”]
How are we to understand this? The Apostle Paul gives us an explanation in 1Corinthians 15:36-44, with titles for this passage (Jerusalem Bible) “The manner of the resurrection”,(KJV) “Certainty and manner thereof”, (Vulgate) “The mode of the resurrection”: “Whatever you sow in the ground has to die before it is given new life and the thing that you sow is not what is going to come; you sow a bare grain, say of wheat or something like that and then God gives it the sort of body that he has chosen; each sort of seed gets its own sort of body. Everything that is flesh is not the same flesh: there is human flesh, animals’ flesh, the flesh of birds and the flesh of fish. Then there are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the heavenly bodies have a beauty of their own and the earthly bodies a different one. The sun has its brightness, the moon a different brightness, and the stars a different brightness, and the stars differ from each other in brightness. It is the same with the resurrection of the dead: the thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful; when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit. If the soul has its own embodiment, so does the spirit have its own embodiment.” [KJV “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: thou sowest not that body that shall die, but bare grain ….So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, but raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and a spiritual body.”; RSV, Vulg “what you sow does not come to life unless it dies. What you sow is not the body which is to be (that shall be)…”] Jesus’ “die to live” philosophy, expounded in other passages to his followers, is implicit here. A dying to self is necessary that we may grow on to that greater life.
Jerusalem Bible notes give us an expanded view of this teaching, including the Hebrew and Greek terminology embedded in early Christian writing. (Numerous scriptural references have been eliminated for ease of reading here, but are present in the JB version for those who wish to pursue them.) “Literally, ‘It is sown a physical (psychikon) body, it is raised a spiritual (pneumatikon) body. In Paul, as in the Old Testament, psyche (Hebr nephesh, Genesis 2:7) is what gives life to animals, to the human body, or it is the actual ‘life’ of the body. In 2 Corinthians 1:23 it is its “living soul”. The term can also mean any human being. As it only gives natural life, it is less important than pneuma by which a human life is divinized by a process that begins through the gift of the Spirit, and is completed after death. Greek philosophers thought of the higher soul (the nous) escaping from ‘the body’, to survive immortally. Christians thought of immortality more in terms of the restoration of the whole person, involving a resurrection of the body effected by the spirit or divine principle which God withdrew from human beings because of sins, but restored to all who are united to the risen Christ, who is the ‘heavenly’ man and life-giving Spirit. The ‘body’ is no longer psychikon but pneumatikon. It is incorruptible, immortal, glorious, no longer subject to the laws of matter; it does not even answer to the description of matter. Psyche can be used in a wider sense as the opposite of the body to indicate what it is in a human being that behaves and feels, or even to indicate the spiritual and immortal soul.”
Interestingly, Judeo-Christian thinkers were not the only ones concerned with the germination of wheat. As contained in another Jerusalem Bible footnote, “Mot was the Phoenician god of wheat, germination, and the underworld. In the Egyptian pantheon he is Osiris.”
This planting is another meaning of baptism, usually thought of as immersion in or sprinkling with water. This teaching is contained in Romans 6:3-11: “You have been taught that when we were baptized with Christ Jesus we were baptized in his death; in other words, when we were baptized we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death [KJV, RSV, Vulgate “we were buried (therefore) with him by (means of) baptism into death”, with explication in JB notes: “The sinner is immersed in water (the etymological meaning of ‘baptize’ is ‘dip’) and thus ‘buried’ with Christ, Col 2:12, with whom he emerges to resurrection, Rm 8:11+, as a ‘new creature’, 2 Co 5:17+, a ‘new man, Ep 2:15+, a member of one body animated by one spirit, 1 Co 12:13; Ep 4:4f.”], so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life [KJV, RSV, Vulg “walk in newness of life”]. If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realize that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a man dies, of course, he has finished with sin. But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.” The King James Version reads in its characteristic poetic style, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”; In the Vulgate, “For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be so in the likeness of his resurrection also….But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live together with Christ.”
Rev. Robert L. Deffinbaugh, along with many others, writes of the seed and its connection with the coming of the Messiah in the historical perspective of the Old Testament: “Throughout Old Testament days, the hope of the Messiah’s coming rose and fell. One wonders what the angels must have thought as they observed God’s promises concerning the coming ‘seed’, yet witnessing the incredible ability of man to endanger the ‘seed’.Consider the way in which the theme of the ‘seed’is developed in the Book of Genesis.” Indeed, the imagery of the seed pervades the entire scope of the Bible. The promised seed is inherent in God’s plan of salvation, as expounded by numerous writers on this topic.
And so, seedtime and harvest exist in the social dimension as well as the personal. I carry in my mind some of the verses remembered from childhood which come from a Danish hymn by Christian Ostergaard (English translation by J.A. Aaberg), “That Cause Can Neither Be Lost nor Stayed”. It speaks eloquently and passionately of that process by which those who sacrifice their lives and energies do not do so in vain, for those principles by which they lived carry on in the lives and actions of those who are inspired by them. It is the reason for the growth of the Church, and for the success of movements which have served to benefit mankind. I close this post with the first and last verses:
“That cause can neither be lost nor stayed, which takes the course of what God has made; And is not trusting in walls and towers, But slowly growing from seeds to flowers….Be then no more by a storm dismayed, For by it the full-grown seeds are laid; And though the tree by its might it shatters, What then, if thousands of seeds it scatters?”