“The living dead” is an oxymoron and basically mutually exclusive: we’re either dead or alive. To say “I am kind of alive” does not make much sense, or to say: “I’m deader than you are.” Being dead is a state of being; so is being alive. No grey zone applies – There’s nothing in between.
And yet, Jesus insists: “Die and you shall live.” What’s that all about?
When Jesus predicted His own death, He remarked to His disciples (John 12:24-25):
“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”
Farmers bank on the power of the seed: they throw wheat kernels onto the tilled soil, and they are not surprised to eventually see new plants shooting up, each plant carrying multiple grains of wheat.
Now imagine you and me being a kernel of wheat. We’re sitting somewhere in storage and having a conversation. Our names are (for lack of a better idea) Kern and Vern.
“Hey Vern”, Kern says. “You awake?” – “Not sure that I want to be,” replied Vern. “Today’s the day we’re gonna die.” – “Yeah, I was awake all night. They’re gonna take all of us sitting here, high and dry, and bury us in the ground.” – Yes, replied Vern, and to make matters worse, they’re gonna pour water over us. No more high and dry. Try low and wet!” Kern and Vern sighed until they were interrupted by a raspy voice coming from a neighboring sack of grain that looked half empty. His name was Rascal. “Hey, you crybabies!” Kern and Vern were offended. “What do you mean crybabies?! Nobody broke the news to you? Today you’re gonna die!” – “Don’t you think I know that?” the raspy voice answered. “Last year I headed in the same direction, was going to be thrown out on what people call their seedbed, but for some reason they didn’t scatter all of us. We’re the leftover grain from last year. I’m telling you, don’t worry about it!” – “Oh come on!” protested Vern “You know we’re as good as dead. The fact that you got spared last year doesn’t mean you get lucky this year.” – “What you don’t know,” the raspy voice continued, “is what happens after we’re buried in the ground.” – “Yeah I know” defiantly Kern chimed in, “they’re gonna take the water hose and drown us in water.” “True”, Rascal said. “But that’s not what I’m getting at. Did you know that after a short while the bleak ground opens up and releases beautiful big mother plants full of new grains, just like you and me? There are many new grains inside of you, and you don’t know it. You’ll release them once you’re buried in the ground.” – “No way!” Kern and Vern interjected. “Yes way!” Rascal said, and that was the end of their discussion, because they heard footsteps approaching, and everybody knew what that meant.
Jesus is a great illustrator. Instead of lengthy explanations He gives us the imagery of a seed that comes alive in a seedbed. Here is His piece of advice to all the Kerns and Verns out there: If you let go of your own little cozy corner and open up to the rest of the world taking a vested interest in the people around you, then you’ll have staying power. You’ll leave a legacy for generations to come.
“I’m the last leaf on the tree
The autumn took the rest
But they won’t take me
I’m the last leaf on the tree
When the autumn wind blows
They’re already gone
They flutter to the ground
‘Cause they can’t hang on
There’s nothing in the world
That I ain’t seen
I greet all the new ones that are coming in green.”
Songwriters: Kathleen Brennan / Thomas Alan Waits