Joseph Damien was a nineteenth-century missionary who ministered to lepers on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. The people in this colony grew to love him, revering the sacrificial life he lived out before them. But even he did not know the price he would eventually pay.
One morning before he was to lead their daily worship, he was pouring some boiling water into a cup when some splashed out and fell on his bare foot. It took him a moment to realize that he had not felt any pain. Gripped by the sudden fear of what this could mean, he let more boiling water spill onto his foot. No feeling whatsoever. Damien immediately knew what had happened. He walked tearfully to deliver his sermon, and no one at first noticed the difference in his opening line. You see, he normally greeted them, “My fellow believers.” But this morning he began with, “My fellow lepers.”
Oh, my friends! It is one thing to minister and pour your life into others at a distance or when the cost to you is minimal. It is quite another to give of yourself to others in a way that will require all. In the greatest sacrifice imaginable, Jesus came into this world knowing what obedience to the Father would cost him. He was fully aware, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, that it would be his Father’s will to crush him. Still, Jesus came. (adapted from Ravi Zacharias’ “The Price of Sacrifice”)
On what is now known as Palm Sunday, just five days before he was to be crucified, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey. He explained his coming in this metaphor: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Do you know that grains of wheat have been found in Pharaoh’s tombs from ancient Egypt? They are thousands of years old, but the grains hold the same potential they held when put in the tomb. When those wheat berries have been planted, they have sprouted like they were just plucked off the stalk. An amazing seed, the grain of wheat! But it is absolutely and utterly useless unless it dies, unless it is buried in the cold, unforgiving earth. The sprout comes, then the blade, then the stalk, and finally the head. Then there is not just one tiny grain of wheat, but thousands. When you plant those thousands you can one day stand beside a shimmering field of wheat, rippling in the breeze, golden in the sunshine, and you can say you have seen a grain of wheat. You have seen all the possibilities of it; all of it has been unfolded and now is visible to the eye. That is what Jesus meant. The world would not see the full outcome of his work and his life until he went to the cross.
And so he came. Jesus came into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. He came through the thronging crowds of people who would sing his praises on Sunday, arrest him on Thursday, and curse him on Friday. He came to die, so that the grain of wheat would produce untold millions.
One of those grains of wheat stood before his congregation more than 1800 years later and said, “My fellow lepers, I am one of you now.” Joseph Damien lived four more years and died of leprosy. But his death was not in vain. There are thousands bearing fruit today because of him.