Wheat & Tares
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
It can be difficult for us to really appreciate our lesson for today... a challenge for us to relate to what Jesus is saying. We have to put ourselves in the place of the people in Jesus’ day... and that’s easier said than done.
Their whole world was built around agriculture... and their ideas, and concepts, of pretty much everything... like communication, or travel... to how they fed themselves... was entirely different from our own.
Today we may say that many people live “paycheck-to-paycheck” or week-to-week... but the vast majority of people in Jesus day lived “hand-to-mouth.”
Of course, being agrarian... what they grew (and what they were able to grow) was the difference between life and death. And the wheat harvest was critically important to every single person. It wasn’t just something you read about in the newspapers or the evening news and wondered if it would affect the prices at Wal*Mart. The harvest... YOUR harvest... could very well mean eating or not eating. A fruitful, productive harvest was the difference between feeding yourself and your family - or going hungry.
Of course, Jesus used the allegory of tares (weeds) in the wheat to represent an image of the Kingdom of God with the full recognition that his audience would understand what he was talking about. He knew how important it was to them.
Have you had any trouble with “bearded darnel” lately? It sounds like a description of my Uncle’s First Wife? Bearded Darnel! Or maybe the name of a punk-rock band from England! What is it? What does it look like? Does it itch? Is there a cream or ointment that’ll get rid of it?
Well, bearded darnel’s not part of our everyday vocabulary anymore. In fact, most of us have probably never heard of it... and have no idea what it is! So what is it? Well... biblical commentaries say it’s one of several different varieties of grassy weeds. It sounds like something you might see growing along the right-of-way or the Interstate median...
But despite it’s simple and innocuous sounding appearance... darnel (tares... or weeds) are anything but innocuous. Darnel... bearded darnel... is poisonous... and it competes with wheat (life giving crops) for the nutrition and vital minerals in the soil... and poses a real threat to a farmer, and the farmer’s ability to feed his family.
Of course, you and I would probably think... “so what?” I mean, a quick trip to Lowe’s or Home Depot for some "Roundup" or some other type of weed-killer... and problem solved!
But that wasn’t the case in Jesus’ day. The fact is, Jesus was painting a devastating picture of crop failure, reduced harvest, and possible starvation. Having bearded darnel sown among your wheat was a very serious and dangerous thing!
It’s hard for us (most of us) to appreciate that in our time of plenty. How many times have you gone to the grocery store and found no bread on the shelf? I mean, a single snowflake can clean out a bread aisle in most grocery stores faster than a bucket of fried chicken disappears at preacher’s conference! But, still, it’s a rare sight to see NO bread on the shelves at Kroger!
So, it seems pretty obvious that Jesus knew his crowd and how to get their attention. And the points of Jesus’ parable... the obvious conclusions... are still grabbing our attention today!
For example, Jesus made it clear:
1. There’s good and evil in this world.
2. Bad things happen that are beyond our control.
3. Jesus blames those bad things on the presence of evil.
It’s also clear that... in Jesus’ parable...
1. The field represents the world.
2. Jesus is the sower.
3. The good seed represents the people in the kingdom or who have a relationship with Christ.
4. The darnel, the weeds, or tares... are the evil ones who will not be a part of the kingdom.
What do such conclusions mean for us... for our lives? Do we believe Jesus? Am I darnel? Are you darnel? How do we know who is or is not? How do we do our best to be a part of the Kingdom?
In the first place, it’s not our place to argue with Jesus or to try and explain away his words. Jesus said there’s evil sown among the good, so there’s evil sown among the good! And if reading the news headlines doesn’t confirm that for you... then the scars we all bear from living in a fallen, evil world, should.
Of course, we also know that there are plenty of people around us (many of our neighbors, and friends, and family members) who live without the knowledge, reality, and the acceptance of the love of Christ. And listen: you don’t have to judge anyone to recognize that reality!
But after reading/hearing Jesus’ words today... how should we respond to those who don’t know Christ?
Well... I’m not so sure we should be about name calling... or labeling people in derogatory ways - that’s beneath us as Follower of Christ! Jesus does point out that a certain amount of judgment or discernment is required... it’s necessary... in order to know what’s good, and what’s bad... or what’s beneficial as and what’s destructive. Even the master’s servants could distinguish between the wheat and the tares.
But then he says, it’s not our job to try and weed-out the tares/darnel from the field. We can see... we can know... we can observe the tares... the bearded darnel. But our job is to make sure we (as in “me, myself and I) are producing good fruit... It’s my job to make sure I’m one of the good plants, and not one of the weeds that’s ruining the harvest.
Fact is: a plant can’t change it’s nature! It’s either a bad weed or a good plant! But people are not weeds or plants. And those whom we’re tempted to label as weeds... as useless... and evil and destructive... (and they may very well be all those things!)... BUT... they’re also people for whom Christ died. Jesus gave his life in order to bring hope to the hopeless... life to the lifeless... purpose to the purposeless...
In other words, people CAN change! It was reflected in our scripture lesson for last week... when Jesus said,
“For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.
Matthew 13:15 and Isaiah 6:9-10
There’s always the opportunity for repentance... there’s always hope; always grace; always forgiveness... in Christ.
Don’t misunderstand! We will know the difference between the good and evil in this world. But it’s our job to always point the evil, destructive tares... to the good farmer... Jesus.
Our call is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Because, after all... without the love of Christ in our lives... we’re no different than the darnel... the weeds... that Jesus says will ultimately be burned away.
The challenge is for each of us to live our lives in such a way... that we’ll produce what’s good, and righteous, and holy. Let us pray for the strength, faith, and discernment to allow us to stay the course and to inspire others to join us.
For the day’s coming, no doubt... when Christ will separate the wheat from the tares... and we don’t want to be part of the “weeping and gnashing of teeth!”
Let’s share the good news of Christ; in the sure and certain hope that some will join us in the harvest of the kingdom!