The Parable of the Weeds in the Wheat (Matt 13:24-30)

At last, a use for my degree in Agricultural Science, and in particular for those hours spent in Crop Botany and Weed Science lectures and pracs, which seemed to have minimal value for an Animal Husbandry major!!

I lead a weekly Bible Study group on campus, and we have agreed to look at the gospel readings from the lectionary, but seeing in the two weeks not long past, many of the parables of the Kingdom that I am studying for my doctorate have appeared, I decided that I would indulge myself a little and spend a few weeks looking at them in a bit more detail. Last Friday we looked at the Parable of the Weeds in the Wheat (or the Wheat and the Tares).

It’s interesting to read commentators on this. They inform me that another name for tares is darnel (and some Bible translations actually say “darnel”) and many of them say that darnel is virtually indistinguishable from wheat until ears form, so you can’t tell which is a wheat plant and which is a darnel plant until they start to form seed. In fact, darnel is a form of bearded rye grass and its leaves are significantly finer than those of wheat, with far less obvious veins in them, so the experienced farmer (any and Ag Sci student who has any hope of passing Weed Science) knows quite a bit sooner than when the heads start to form which plants are wheat and which are darnel.

Once heads form, though, even the most inexperienced person can tell the difference. The seeds of darnel are poisonous, so they can’t be combined with wheat grain and must be disposed of before the grain is threshed from the plants. The problem with weeding a field of wheat is that in order to get a high yield, the farmer needs to plant seeds quite close together, so by the time it’s easy to see which plants are crop and which are weeds, the roots are so closely intertwined that pulling up the weeds means that crop plants are pulled up with them.

In the context of this parable, the people who come to the owner of the field are called “slaves”, not skilled farm workers. The parable says that they come to their master offering to pull up the weeds that have infested the crop only when the seed has begun to set. The owner of the field is a farmer. He would have been aware for some time that there are weeds in his crop and he had already formed his game plan for dealing with them. He did not need the slaves to point out that there were weeds in the crop and it is clear that his priorities for the darnel plants are different to those of the slaves. It is only the seeds of the darnel that are poisonous, so leaving them there is no a problem as long as the seeds don’t get mixed up with the wheat seeds when they are being threshed.  Since he does not have access to a combine harvester with its inability to discriminate between wheat and darnel, he is content to leave the painstaking task of separating the wheat from the darnel until the time of the harvest when there’s less chance of losing good seed along with the bad.

In other words, I think that in its Matthean form, this parable is suggesting that God is not actually looking for church members or church leaders to be throwing other church members or leaders out on the basis of their judgement that said people are “weeds” in God’s Realm.  That, in fact, we don’t have the requisite skills to do this without throwing out “wheat” as well, so maybe we should just get on with being “wheat” ourselves and let God worry about who’s in and out.

I haven’t done any work on the Thomasine version of the parable and it’s not on my agenda for a while yet, but I had previously accepted the commentators’ analysis of the Matthean version, which makes me wonder what I was doing during the Year of Matthew when I was the parish minister in the wheat-growing area of western Victoria.  Maybe that was when I was on maternity leave!

5 thoughts on “The Parable of the Weeds in the Wheat (Matt 13:24-30)

  1. A somewhat different interpretation is that the original parable had a punch- line teaching to it that the writer of Matthew omitted. That is, after the weeds are gathered, they would be burned and their ashes later used as compost to nourish the next crop. Though the weeds hinder the growth of the good grain, they can provide necessary nourishment, too.

    The writer of Matthew is postulated to have omitted it because he believed in a clearer distinction between good and evil.

  2. Jim,

    If you accept this ending, you are accepting that the parable is not referring to the end of the age, but rather simply to human lifespan. I’m not sure whether I think that the apocalyptic element was Jesus or a later overlay, but this is an interesting thought.

  3. Judy,

    Yes, the interpretation I go by is that the writer of Matthew’s abbreviated version goes along with his apocalyptic views, while the original teaching was that in the spiritual kingdom, as in life, one can always find some evil, which one should try to turn towards good.

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  5. The parable as originally spoken is about corruption of scripture by the enemy, such as after paul says fornicators do not inherit the kingdom, the enemy has sown the tares in the very next verse “all things are lawful.” And again after Paul discusses judgement based on works in romans 1-3 we have the tares of ch 4 about justification by faith alone.

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