There’s a hilarious moment in the film Secondhand Lions, in which the two rich but reclusive old codgers Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine) reluctantly take up vegetable gardening. They buy a variety of seed packets from a traveling salesman, plant them, and faithfully tend the garden. It’s not until after the seedlings sprout that they realize they’ve been had: they thought they had planted everything from tomatoes to bok choy, but it’s all coming up corn.
After all, they were adventurers in their earlier life: French Foreign Legionnaires, not farmers. Still, you’d have to be a bit clueless not to realize that all the seeds you were holding were the same.
As 1 Corinthians 15 nears its close, Paul finally gets around to explaining the nature of the resurrection body. But depending on how tantalized we are by the mysterious descriptions of Jesus’ own post-resurrection reality, we may find Paul’s description a bit disappointing: we want to know more. But he’s not writing with clinical or scientific precision; his purpose is still rhetorical.
As we’ve seen earlier in the letter, some Corinthians seemed to believe that they had already achieved the pinnacle of spirituality, and in a way that tended to downplay or even ignore the importance of what they did in the body. It’s no wonder that they had a hard time believing in a bodily resurrection, and may even have ridiculed the idea, portraying it as a scene from a bad horror movie, with corpses climbing out of graves.
Not mincing words, Paul calls them fools and states what he takes as obvious:
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. (1 Cor 15:35-38, NRSV)
They already believe, in other words, in a common form of “bodily” transformation: the seed that is planted doesn’t remain a seed, but comes to life in a different bodily form, given by the Creator. Why, then, is it so hard to believe that our earthly bodies can be transformed by God as well?
The metaphor, of course, doesn’t remove the mystery. But perhaps, if we’ve ever delighted in the miracle of new life, watching flowers and vegetables spring from seeds that were planted with hopeful expectation, we might begin to appreciate the miracle that yet awaits each and every believer.