The Wheat and the Tares - Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43 - Rev Walter Abetz
Kenneth E. Bailey grew up in the back blocks of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia as the child of Christian missionaries. Around 2002 he visited Bendigo and spoke about the importance of the Middle Eastern cultural context that is assumed in the parables of Jesus. He has written a book about the parables in Luke and I bought his book. But the same principles apply to the parables in Matthew. https://shenango.org/bailey/
So let us look at the reading from Mt 13:24-29
“Weeds” is rather an unhelpful translation (NIV). Some modern scholars argue about the meaning of the word. But 19th Century scholars such as W E Vine are helpful, and likely to be correct. The Greek word ZIZANION represents a plant called darnel (a kind of rye grass), the commonest of the four species is the bearded darnel. It grows in grain fields, as tall as wheat. It has a very similar appearance to wheat, until the heads form. The seeds are poisonous to humans and herbivorous animals, producing sleepiness, nausea, convulsions and even death. But poultry can eat it without bad effects. To simply call the plants “weeds” (NIV) really misses the mark.
Secondly, Lev 19:19 states
“‘Keep my decrees. “‘Do not mate different kinds of animals. “‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. “‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
“Do not plant your fields with two kinds of seeds.” This is a particular OT laws, known to Jews. This is the Jewish angle on the parable. Not just weeds, but a poisonous plant species capable of feeding poultry – knowingly sown in the farmer’s paddock. If the farmer wants to be a good Jew, the enemy has ruined that – when the harvest comes, everyone will know that two kinds of seeds were sown in that paddock.
It is interesting from this perspective, that the tares or darnel was not gathered up for chicken feed. It was burnt. The master does not want to benefit from the misdeed of the enemy. The master is a seeker after holiness, righteousness, doing the right thing by God’s law.
Thirdly, Jewish slaves were economic refugees, finding refuge in the circle of a wealthier family. Generally they felt love and allegiance to their master, not hatred. These servants are keen to defend their master’s standing in the community (reputation is paramount in the Middle East).
None of that is written into the parable. But if you do not have this context, the parable is open to all sorts of interpretations.
Let me retell the story as Jesus’ audience might have heard it.
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed poisonous plants among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the presence of poisonous plants also became apparent. He was going to look bad in the eyes of his fellow Jews.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the poisonous plants come from?’ They knew the owner would not plant two kinds of seeds.
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up to save your reputation?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling out the poisonous plants, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. I will put up with the shame for the sake of the wheat, and I will not profit from the chicken feed. At harvest time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the poisonous plants and tie them in bundles to be burned, I do not want them to be used as chicken feed; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Jesus explains the parable. God’s kingdom here is all the earth. It is certainly an apocalyptic parable – the end of time when a new heaven and a new earth will be instituted, and “the righteous will shine like the sun”.
There are other NT passages that require us to make distinctions and we are asked to cease fellowship with people associated with the church, who have NO intention to grow into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Jesus Christ. They are not TARES. They do not even look like the wheat.
So back to the look alikes.
They are poisonous plants, they were not meant to be there in the paddock, but they are. They are part of the world –the wider kingdom of God. We as servants of the Kingdom, are to leave the look-alikes standing until the angels come to harvest. Notice, the servants do not bring in the harvest!! Final Judgement belongs to the Son of Man.
To live in that kind of world requires patience. It requires us to live with potential danger. It means, even for God, reputational loss from the overly righteous. Our Master’s command revolves around not destroying the harvest of wheat.
How do we live in the ambiguity of our times? 2000 years of Christianity has not produced a perfect nation. Good people are advocating for abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage.
We are called to share in the sufferings of Christ – whether from the world (as Jesus did from the Roman Empire), or whether it is from the religious authorities (as Jesus did from the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Sanhedrin).
Going a little beyond the parable, do we suffer from an identity crises, if we see a bearded darnel growing up beside us? Or are we secure in knowing that we are the planting of the Lord? If we do not have our anchor in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, we will not have the patience to endure to the end.
To know that we are the planting of the Lord is quite different from hoping that Jesus has nothing better to do than satisfy all OUR self-focussed needs.
It seems the task of the church is to be uncompromisingly patient.
Jesus asked his disciples, and is asking us too, “Have you understood all these things?” And do WE know what we are saying when we reply “Yes, Lord”?
We live in the ambiguity of the current world scene. It causes us to mourn.
I love the words recorded by Isaiah in Isaiah 61
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
- After Pentecost, we have the same mission.
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.
In this time of confusion about right and wrong, are we afraid to own our identity as tress of righteousness?
May we called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, so that God may be glorified through us. Amen