Saturday, 16th week in ordinary time – Matthew 13:24-30
Chapter 13 is the third of Matthew’s five discourses found in the Gospel. In this chapter, Matthew will line up seven parables. We have already heard the parable of the soil (not sower as I have argued so passionately in the earlier talk). In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a second parable about sowing seeds, this time about two sowers — one who sows good seed to grow wheat, and the enemy who sows weeds among the wheat. The audience seems to comprise both disciples, the audience for 13:18-23, and crowds (13:34, 36).
In the parable of the weeds and wheat, an “enemy” comes when everyone is sleeping and sows’ weeds”. In the scriptures, Matthew uses the Greek term ‘zizania’ to describe the weeds. In modern botanical terms zizania refers to wild rice grasses. What Matthew most likely refers to, however, is darnel or cockle, a noxious weed that closely resembles wheat and is plentiful in Israel. Darnel looked very similar to wheat in the initial stages of growth but revealed their true identity closer to the harvest when the pant matured and the ears appeared. The ears of the real wheat are heavy and will droop, while the ears of the darnel stand up straight.
In the previous parable, the seed experiences difficulties. This time, the difficulties involve not the types of ground on which it falls, but the actions of an enemy person, “while everyone was asleep.” When the householder’s slaves notice the weeds, their first response is to question the quality of the seed. “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” (13:27) When the master replies that an enemy has sown the weeds, the slaves are anxious to take care of the problem, to root those nasty weeds right out. But the master restrains his servants, saying that in gathering the weeds they would uproot the wheat along with them. He orders them to let both grow together until the harvest. Then he will send out his reapers to collect and burn the weeds and to gather the wheat into his barn (13:28-30). The farmer’s strange practice of allowing the wheat and weeds to grow up together can best be understood as a symbol of God’s patience.
Interestingly, at verses 30-31, Matthew ends the parable and immediately begins another. In fact, he tells two more parables before offering an interpretation of the wheat and the weeds. He is prompted to do so by the disciples (13:36) and then he gives an allegorical explanation to the parable which is not part of today’s Gospel text but I recommend you read it.
Jesus’ allegorical explanation (13:36-43), which is directed to his disciples. Christian interpreters have typically read the story as an allegorical warning to the church, which, like the field with good and bad seeds, is a mixed body that includes both saints and sinners. This was not the mind of Jesus. Like the parable of the sower, the parable of the wheat and weeds offers a perspective on opposition to Jesus, and also speaks more generally to the persistence of evil in the world. In the clearest of terms, Jesus tells his disciples what almost every element of the parable represents: “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” (13:37-39). Jesus does not, however, say whom the slaves represent. What then does this parable teach us, simply this, that members of the church are not to judge one another, but to wait for God’s angels to sort the good from the bad at the final judgment.
Labeling people as children of the devil hardly facilitates our recognising all people as bearing the image of God. The parable warns us that now is not the time to be presuming to know final outcomes. Nor can we forget that God’s infinite and indiscriminate mercy.