Morning Musing: John 12:24

“Truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

How is it that we manage to figure out who we are? More than that, how do we manage to become that person? There’s something inside of all of us that longs to be fully ourselves. The trouble is, most of us don’t really know who that is or how to get there if we do. There are all kinds of obstacles in the way. These appear in our path both internally and externally. Externally, some of the people around us don’t want us to become fully who we were made to be because they want us to be conformed to their own image for us. Maybe this is a parent in your life, but it could also be a sibling or a friend or a boss or a coworker. Many of our obstacles, though, are internal. We are afraid of the journey to reach that point. We don’t want to give up all of the things that will have to go for us to get there. We want to have options and not be fully committed to any one thing. The result here is often a mess. Jesus gave us a way to get there though. It is a way that was accidentally captured in the final episode of Titans season three. I know I did a review of the series a few weeks ago, but having just finished it at last, there’s one more thing we need to talk about. Let’s get to it.

The season finished strong and as expected. The good guys won. The bad guys lost. The city was saved. There really wasn’t much of a love story, but the hero did walk away from the girl so he could keep saving the day. Basically, it went the way you would expect a superhero story to go.

The major villain for this season was the classic Batman villain, Scarecrow. His character was interesting. He really wasn’t very intimidating at any point in the season. He was crazy, and he was working through some serious mommy issues (his mom was actually introduced in one scene just long enough for him to murder her), but other than wanting to kill everyone in Gotham, where this particular season took place, he wasn’t ever terribly menacing. But he was clever which allowed the writers to do some fun things including having him sit in the Bat Cave and listen to Batman’s profile of him which basically concluded Scarecrow was little more than a sadistic coward.

The real theme of the season, though, didn’t have anything to do with the major conflict. This season was all about resurrection. Four different characters were brought back from the dead over the course of the season and another one voluntarily gave up his chance at it so he could help other people come back from the dead, essentially committing to be a superhero in the place between here and eternity.

The last character to be brought back was the main hero, Nightwing. Nightwing—Dick Grayson—was the original Robin. He changed his name when he left Batman to lead the Titans. Nightwing was killed in a climactic battle with Red Hood, another character who was resurrected early in the season. Red Hood wasn’t the one who killed him, but he wound up dead anyway. He was then resurrected using the Lazarus Pit Ra’s al Ghul built in Gotham some years back when he was looking into setting up his operation there. (Don’t tune me out if you’re lost in the comic book weeds, we’ll come out of this to the point in just a minute.) It was all terribly convenient, but that’s how these kinds of stories go.

In any event, it wasn’t Nightwing’s resurrection itself that so caught my attention. It was a conversation he had about it with Donna Troy toward the end of the final episode when Scarecrow had been defeated and they were wrapping up the story. Incidentally, she was another of the characters who came back from the dead, although her death was at the end of season two. The conversation went like this:

Donna: Congrats, by the way.

Dick: For what?

Donna: For finding Nightwing

Dick: I’m starting to. And all I had to do to find him was die.

Donna: You know, I will say this: The one thing about dying and coming back is that it sure sets your priorities straight.

Titans Episode 3.13, Purple Rain

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you pay attention to what you’re watching, you’ll be surprised just how often the Gospel shows up when you least expect it. As I said when writing up a review of Titans a few weeks ago, I struggled to find a line from which to offer a meaningful review because it was generally so devoid of spiritual content. Then this episode happened.

What so caught my attention here is Dick’s observation that all it took to find himself was dying. Surely the writers didn’t have the Gospel in mind, but this resonates rather harmoniously with Jesus’ observation here to His disciples. Jesus, here, was talking about His impending death and subsequent resurrection. He was trying to help His disciples get their minds and hearts around the fact that His dying was a good thing.

Of course, no, in a direct sense it wasn’t a good thing. Jesus’ death on the cross was the gravest injustice ever perpetuated by people. But in an absolute sense, He was being planted as a seed that would grow, and whose fruit would be very sweet indeed. It was the fruit of eternal life.

Yet what does any of this have to do with our finding ourselves? There are not any Lazarus Pits lying around that we can use to bring ourselves back to life after physically dying. No, but what we do have is even better. In Christ, we don’t have to die physically. He did that for us. Instead, we can entrust our life to Him and participate in His death spiritually. That is, we accept that His death was for us. And, as Paul said, “Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.” (Romans‬ ‭6:4-5‬ ‭CSB‬‬)

In Christ, that is, we have new life. As good as that sounds, though, there’s more. Once we are found in Him, the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts to begin the process of making us new from the inside out. He takes up residence in our very souls to shape and form us into the beautifully unique individuals God created us to be. In other words, He helps us become fully ourselves—the selves who will most glorify God and experience all the accompanying joy.

What this means is that Titans got it right. The only thing it takes to find ourselves is dying. When we die to our former self with all its sinful, destructive desires which never accomplish anything of lasting significance in us or in the world around us, we can begin to become the selves we were always meant to be. (This does not mean, by the way, that non-Christians can’t make an impact on the world that lasts beyond their lifetime. They obviously can and have. What I’m talking about is an entirely longer frame of reference than merely a single human lifetime—or even several of them.)

The question you and I have to answer, then, is a simple one: Who do we want to be? Do we want to settle for whatever we manage to construct and claim for ourselves, or do we want to aim for something entirely larger than that? We can settle for the former. God will let that happen. But we won’t ever really be happy until we reach for more. And we can have more. All it takes is dying. All it takes is uniting ourselves with the One who already died, lives, and will bring us new and eternal life when the day arrives. Don’t settle for anything less than being fully yourself. In Christ is where you will find it. The world will be glad you did.

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