He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
– Matthew 13:24-30
In studying this parable, I reached for a commentary (which is sometimes a bad habit of mine). It was interesting to me that the commentator didn’t provide any commentary. He just noted that Jesus fully explains this parable a few verses later:
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
– Matthew 13:36-43
We’re not used to Jesus explaining the parables, so this full explanation comes as something of a shock! But a welcome one.
In thinking about this parable, several things hit me. First of all, I’m a bit ashamed. I have for years talked about this parable as if the “field” represented the church. Which, as Jesus points out, it doesn’t (or not necessarily). The field represents the world.
And in this field an epic agricultural battle rages. The Son of Man has sown good seed, which is those who are his true children. His enemy comes up behind him and sows bad seed – called “weeds” or “tares”. I’ve always been a bit intrigued by this. I know about wheat, having helped harvest it in the western panhandle of Nebraska as a teen. And I know about weeds, as anyone who’s looked at my flowerbeds recently can attest. How could they be confused? If green weeds as I know them were taking over a field of wheat, it would seem straightforward to go in there and carefully pull the weeds.
The Complete Bible Commentary has this to say:
The enemy is satan and the tares (Gr zizanion, denoting “darnel.” Iolium temulentum) are false converts. The darnel was a weed that resembled wheat but did not come to fruition.
Ah, darnel. From what I’ve read, it looks a whole lot like wheat when it’s young, and it’s also troublesome because it can be host to a poisonous fungus. In addition, it’s roots tend to go deep and intertwine with wheat roots, which makes pulling darnel a dangerous business. And – most importantly – darnel doesn’t produce wheat.
In Jesus’ parables we often see this repeated theme of fruit-bearing. It is a sign and a characteristic of a true son or daughter of the Kingdom of God. Not perfection. But fruit.
And, really, when you think about it, bearing fruit should be natural to us. If we are a child of God, we are the “good seed” – we are the wheat. Stalks of wheat don’t have to strive to bear their golden crowns of wheat kernels. It just happens. Naturally. That’s what wheat does.
There’s a lesson here. We’re in a world (and, often, in a church) filled with our brother and sister wheat-stalks and also darnel. Lots and lots of darnel. Sometimes that gets us confused, doesn’t it?
This parable has been wrongly used, I think, to teach that we are not to follow other Biblical commands to root out the darnel weeds in our midst (in the correct, Biblical way, of course), to purify the church. We are. But we can’t forget that we will still always have weeds with us. And sometimes we won’t even recognize them. Frighteningly, some of us may be darnel ourselves and not know it.
But in the end God will straighten it out. Our job is to bear fruit, to do what comes naturally to a child of God.
“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
He who has ears, let him hear.”
[Note: cross-posted over at HNW Gap Singles]