Friday, October 30, 2009

The parable of the Wheat and the Tares

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.” ’

- Matthew 13:24-30

After we've been introduced to the style of preaching in parables, coming to understand their purpose, how they work, and having the parable of the Sower explained, Matthew reports Jesus' continuing preaching in the style of parables. In this passage, we are now given the parable of the Wheat and the Tares (or Weeds). Now that Jesus has familiarized his disciples with this method of preaching and teaching, he continues to give his famous vivid examples about the nature of the kingdom to the crowds - what it is like, how it will grow, and other aspects of its work in our midst and, by illustration, what they the disciples are doing. We understand that all are to learn from the parables - both disciples and the crowds - but private explanation is for the disciples.

These vivid word depictions of the reality of this spiritual kingdom and how it works serve a tremendous purpose. They continue to be the models from which we draw inspiration not only for understanding how spiritual teaching can work and how Jesus himself chose to teach, but also where we are ourselves in terms of that kingdom among us and the varied aspects of its nature. Here in the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, we're given an illustration that elaborates on the earlier parable of the Sower. In this parable, we're introduced to the notion of a competing sower - who comes stealthily "while everybody was asleep." So we're to understand that there are other seeds being sown along with the good seeds of the first Sower.

Once again, as with the parable of the Sower, Matthew will include Jesus' private explanation to the disciples a little further along in our reading. So, I will not go into a deep explanation here, but once again will leave it up to the reader to think about this parable. We recall that Jesus has given us his reasons for teaching in this way. How does this parable take root in you? What is your understanding? Wherever you begin, that is where you start to develop a relationship and grow.

What I think about as I read this parable is, first of all, as noted above, there is a sort of competing sower at work. The parable itself reminds me of what we have read earlier preached - in an entirely different style - in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew in his gospel.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)

We're reminded that we're living in a period of time in which all grow together, the wheat and the weeds. Jesus' parable here tells us that this is for a purpose and a reason. So, we are in a time of growth, before the harvest. There's a difference between his preaching in the Sermon on the Mount and his telling of this parable, and it's not only in the preaching style. While the facts (and his teaching of our behavior in this time) remain the same, there's a new element introduced here in this parable. That is the element of the harvest. So, in elaboration on the points made in the parable of the Sower, and the growing understanding in Matthew's gospel that there is hostile opposition to Jesus that is plotting against him, we are given to understand that Judgment is now an element coming into play as relevant to his ministry. Not all of us will respond positively; not everybody will have the same reaction. As Jesus' teaching becomes in a sense more guarded, so we are becoming aware of the growing differences there will be between followers and those who do not follow these teachings nor receive them well.

These are the elements that suggest themselves to me. Again, it's important that we start where the parable takes root in us. There are very important lessons here about the nature of the kingdom, an opponent sower (called an enemy here, for surely who else would sow weeds among the good wheat?). Importantly, as well, lessons about how we are to grow together, side by side, for a time as decided by the Master. A lot to ponder. How do you read this parable?

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