There is a Hindu parable from the Upanishads, and it goes like this:
A father tells his son, “Bring me a fig.” The son gets one. The father then asks him to break it open and tell him what he sees inside. The son responds, “Some rather tiny seeds, father.” The father asks the son to break one of them open and tell him what he sees. The son responds, “Nothing at all, Father.” The conclusion: “From the inside of this tiny seed, which seems to be nothing at all, this whole fig tree grows. That is the Real.”
This is an example of Penentheism, or God inside everything. Many religions believe that God is in everything, that even cancer can be God if we look at it from a different point of view. What about the Bible? Does not Christ also say similar things? Indeed, many Hindus will take the following saying of Jesus and claim that Jesus was a Hindu. Luke 13: 18-19: “Jesus said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
Sounds similar doesn't it? Why am I bringing this up? Because I want to point out a fundamental difference between two religions, because we are in the season of Lent, and because in order to turn away from the world and toward Christ this season, we have to be able to do things like take two similar ideas and really delve into them, discovering the difference. These things really effect our lives, and I'll show you how.
Is Christ saying the same thing as the Upanishads? Here's another “wise” Hindu quote: “Inside this seed is a tree as big as this one. Vishnu can squeeze a whole banyan tree into such a tiny seed.” Let's put our thinking caps on. Does God squeeze an entire tree into a seed? No. Let's look at Jesus' mustard seed quote again. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden. It grew and became a tree. THAT IS THE REAL. The tree is not inside the seed. God is not IN everything. God is the author of creation, separate from it. And he authored a process in which we plant a seed in the ground and it grows and BECOMES a tree.
Well, so what? You say to-may-to and I say to-mah-to. The genes, the DNA, for the tree are in the seed, so aren't you just splitting hairs? No, this is important stuff for our spiritual development, because if we believe that God is IN everything, we are going to have a different view of reality, and we will act differently, than if we believe that God is the author of a PROCESS in which a seed becomes a tree. If we think that the Kingdom of God is like a whole, complete tree inside a seed, then what are we going to do? We are going to continually search for God inside ourselves. We are going to try to unlock the God potential in everyone. We will eventually think that we ARE God. Who else thought that? Oh, yeah! Adam and Eve. We know what happened there.
And yet, that thinking is prevalent throughout the world. You are the master of your own destiny remember? Not God—YOU are the master. You find the God in you and unleash it. Now, we do believe that Holy Spirit is in our hearts, but the Holy Spirit is not us. He is an independent person of the Trinity, who communicates directly with our souls and helps guide us down the right paths in life. But he is not US. He is not our conscience. He is not our potential. He is not our human spirit—you know that thing that has to triumph in every feel-good movie. God is separate from us. He has a relationship with us, and he communicates with our souls, but he is God and we are us. We are not the same.
In our gospel reading tonight, we get another piece of this puzzle about God's relationship with us. This Lenten season, these deeper details are important. The verse is verse 24 of chapter 12 in the Gospel of John, and it reads, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat FALLS into the earth and DIES, it remains just a single grain; but if it DIES it bears much fruit.”
Once again we have moved far away from the inaccurate concept that a tree is inside a seed. We once again return to the planting in the ground and growth details of the mustard seed parable. But now we have a very astonishing detail that the seed must DIE in order to bear fruit. In the context of the passage, Jesus is not only telling us that we must metaphorically DIE to this world in order to gain everlasting life—which is knowing God (here is our Lenten theme), but that he is actually going to die and in doing so, produce the greatest kind of fruit: drawing all people to himself. Everyone, Jew and Gentile, Slave and Free, Man and Woman. Everyone.
Jesus goes so far as to say that if this death does not happen, the seed remains alone—isolated. In other words, the other religions and the secular world that teach us to look inside ourselves for the answer end up isolating us, leaving us alone, without community, without the kingdom of God. Isolated.
Burial and death make a wondrous change in the seed. It is no longer alone. It grows and multiplies. More seeds fall to the earth—more death—and more life springs forth. More fruit. Our life in Christ comes from dying. Through God's grace, our worldly, old nature decays and dies, and the new nature comes out of that death. It is a life in Christ. It is a life that turns to scripture for answers. It is a life that prays before doing anything. It knows the truth. It abhors the false. It praises God in beauty and holiness.
Jesus Christ might have chosen to remain a seed. He was with the father already and had been with Him from the beginning. He would have been quite pleased to remain with the Father and the host of angels for the rest of time. But God would be alone. This was not true happiness. His very nature demanded that he abhor the solitary life, even as a trinity. He therefore fell to earth and died. This was fueled by joy. God will never be alone. He has drawn and is continuing to draw all people to him. The renewal and new life of all things in existence springs out of the fall of that one precious seed into the earth.