Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, “An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ “
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached 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 are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen! (NRSV)
This parable is one of the places from which history has gotten the notion that the bad people/not sons of the kingdom/non-believers will burn in hell. I’m not so sure that is what Jesus meant us to get from that story, but to be sure, we’ll have to ask him someday when we get face to face with him… Until then, we have to use the brains God gave us to do the best we can.
So let’s look at a couple of things. First the weeds in this story aren’t just any weeds. In Greek the word is zizania. That is the Greed word for the plant with the Latin name folium temulentum, or as we would know it “bearded darnel” or “poison darnel.” The interesting thing about darnel is that it grows everywhere wheat does, it closely resembles wheat until the grain ripens. In fact, in some parts of the world it is called ‘false wheat’. Then at harvest time it is easy. Wheat seeds are brown. Darnel seeds are black. Darnel is, as the one name suggests, poisonous. Eating the plant will cause intense vomiting and can be fatal.
So first, the farmer/householder has very well trained and thorough slaves. Interestingly, they are the only characters in the parable that are not part of Jesus’ explanation. What to make of that? I’m thinking it is deliberate. The Pharisees especially want to weed out any unsavory influences on the religious practice and teaching of the day. They would be the ones who would go to God with a complaint about Jesus and his disciples “poisoning” the faith. (Think of Paul here, before his conversion.) Jesus leaves them out of the explanation as a blatant way of saying “Having someone to guard the fields and watch over them carefully is so unimportant they don’t even get a mention in the explanation.” The Pharisees obviously think they are doing a good thing trying to purify the ‘field’ in their own time. Jesus calls that into question. (This kind of makes me squirm though, as a member of the clergy. In this story at least, it seems like Jesus wants to cut out anyone tending the field until time for the harvest. Then the reapers will do their work. But I do think the clergy who recognize we are plants in the field along with everyone else rather than workers that are more like God/the owner makes for a stronger church.)
The farmhands/slaves obviously keep a close eye on the master’s fields to be able to see there is both wheat and zizania in this field. The fact that they recognize the difference at this early stage is a testament to their expertise. They want to go through the field and get rid of the darnel plants from the beginning, but the boss says “No.” They are to let them go until the final harvest when it will be easy to tell them apart. Then the darnel is to be burned and the wheat gathered into sheaves and stored in the barn. This isn’t to punish the darnel, but to protect those who will eat the grain from the poison and its effects. If you eat it, you might die.
In the explanation, Jesus clearly calls the wheat the sons of the kingdom and the zizania the sons of the wicked one. Jesus is not usually so binary about people. Is Jesus over-simplifying here, for the flow of the story? Could it be that Jesus was using ‘sons of the kingdom’ and ‘sons of the wicked one’ not so much to talk about people as a whole but as the elements of the person, as the psalmist in yesterday’s text identified by being desirous of having an undivided heart?
Mostly, if Jesus were here today, he would tell me to get out of the weeds. I think he would say, “It is a parable. Don’t be so picky. What is the point of the whole story?”
The point of the whole story is that there is both wickedness and righteousness in the world today, but not to worry, the wickedness won’t poison the world in the end. The world will be saved from the poison’s effects. In the end, all will be glorious; and until then, we are not to fear, we are not to judge. We are just to be like the Son of Man and sow good seed.
So pay attention to what you plant today.
blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.