Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

The Wheat and the Tares

Matt 13:24, RSV: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while 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 householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ 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.'”…

He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means 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 evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.


Simple enough, right? The good seed are the true believers, and the tares are the bad people in the world. You can easily spot the bad people, they rob, cheat, steal, and assault the good people, and in the end they will reap their just rewards, they will be cast into the fiery furnace and spend the rest of eternity paying for what they have done. So, why the parable?


Wheat (left) and Tares (right)

The key here is the word Jesus uses for the evil doers: tares. What is a tare? Most translations go with the word “weed” because we all understand weeds. They are the plants that spoil the look of our lawns, and wreak havoc with our gardens. So, why not just pluck them out before they can do any damage? Why does Jesus have the farmer tell his workers to leave them? Sure, if you pull the weed you might pull out the wheat as well, but at least you get all the weeds, right?

The Greek word being used is ζιζανια (zizania), and a loose translation is weed, however ζιζανια is a specific weed called Darnel. Darnel is a sneaky weed, it looks almost exactly like wheat, in fact its common name is False Weed. Darnel can only really be identified after the ears have started ripening, at which time the ears of the Darnel appear black, compared to the tan color of wheat. In other words, even if you carefully pull what you think of as Darnel out of the garden you may still end up leaving some behind, or worse, you may pull some of the wheat out by mistake. Best to wait until harvest time so that you can truly identify the wheat from the weed.

So, what Jesus is really talking about here are not the thieves and robbers (obvious bad guys), but the people who sit next to you in the pew, or preach to you from the pulpit or TV, or who write blogs ;). In other words they are hiding among you, indistinguishable from the real believers, it is only at harvest time that the angels will be able to separate the wheat from the weed. They lie there in wait, hoping to choke the Word from you, leading you down the wrong path until it is too late to be able to turn back.

Jesus warned of this many times: the wheat and the tares, the caution about misleading the children (the children of the Kingdom). Peter and Paul also warned us of those preaching a different Gospel than what they were teaching: the false prophets and heretics. We must be ever vigilant, but also aware that we may not be able to tell the good from the bad until it is too late. Do you weigh what you hear from what is in the Gospels? Does it sound true, or does it sound too good to be true? Remember that if the false prophets were easy to spot then they wouldn’t have been a problem. Many people were caught up in their teachings and led astray before the Apostles could warn them because what they were teaching wasn’t obviously false, it sounded so right.


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