Fifth Sunday in Lent

Resurrection is vegetal

Photo of a wheat field
Photo of wheat field, via Unsplash;

March 17, 2024

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Commentary on John 12:20-33

During the Passover festival, some Greeks came to Philip and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” So Philip went to Andrew, then Andrew went and told Jesus about this request (verses 20–21). Jesus’ response to this request is vegetal: “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” (verse 24).

The Johannine Jesus declares himself and is introduced with various metaphors: Lamb of God (1:29, 36), the bread of life (6:35), the light of the world (8:12), the door (10:7), the good shepherd (10:11, 14), the resurrection and the life (11:25), the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), and the true vine (15:1). Among the various choices he could have said in helping the Greeks “see” him, Jesus chooses to describe himself as the Son of Man whose hour (or death and resurrection) comes with a grain. Here, we could simplistically assume that this is just a metaphor of what is to come.

Another way of reading this passage is to take the vegetal narrative provided by John seriously. That is, we could read this passage by learning from the vegetal, particularly the vegetal life cycle.

I read in this way because I love gardening. Touching the soil, seeing and smelling the plants, and eating the fruits of their love teach me every time to be receptive to the presence of the vegetal life. Moreover, recently I have also learned about the importance of accepting decay or death. As a human being, I am fearful of my own death because, as a Christian, I have one life to live with a clear expiration in sight. And yet, plants teach me that decay/death is not the end. They grow their leaves during spring, blossom their flowers during summer, lay down their leaves during the fall, and accept the slumber during winter. Then they rise again as the spring season awakens.

Plants teach us about resurrection. As Stephen D. Moore narrates, the Gospel of John illustrates “the inseparability of the human, the nonhuman, and the divine and as such the divinity of the nonhuman no less than the human.”1 Like many other communities during the first century CE, the Johannine community probably reflected upon the theological through the lens of the vegetal because many of them lived in an agrarian milieu. For example, to lose one’s life is like a grain falling down on the earth, dying, sprouting into life, and bearing much fruit (verse 25).

Moreover, the plants probably helped them understand that decay in Christ leads to everlasting life. Death in this life is not the end. As plants germinate after a period of dormancy, having faith in the Son of Man is having faith in God who is the vine grower (15:1). Abiding in God will lead to life that bears eternal fruit (15:5). Moreover, Jesus promises that those who hear and believe in his word shall not remain in the darkness (12:46). The spring of eternal life will come because Jesus is the light of the world (8:12; 12:35–36).

Losing one’s life for the gospel is not a call for meaningless sacrifice or abuse. Rather, it is a reminder to “come and see” (1:39) from God’s creation that resurrection is vegetal. We live and die in Christ because, like the plants, we believe in Christ’s promise of renewed life. This renewed life recognizes the joys and pains of the olden days, the deaths that we have had in the past, while believing that we will see the rays of divine light and the joys of the blessed rain in our lives. In all of these, we are invited once again to let go of all of ourselves so we can be buried and be resurrected in Christ.



  1. Stephen D. Moore, “What a (Sometimes Inanimate) Divine Animal and Plant Has to Teach Us about Being Human,” in Gospel Jesuses and Other Nonhumans: Biblical Criticism Post-Poststructuralism (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2017), 126.