Week 1 – The Weeds
We’ll be starting with the first parable of the Kingdom, often called the Parable of the Weeds or, if you’re old school, the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (“tares” being just a KJV word for weeds). In it Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like wheat that a man sowed in his field, only to realize later that his enemy had snuck in and sowed weeds in the same field to sabotage him. Faced with the dilemma of whether to get rid of the weeds and risk losing his whole crop or leave the weeds and let them crowd out the wheat, he decides to wait, let his wheat grow as much as it can, and deal with the weeds at harvest.
That scenario is pretty foreign to us, considering few of us are regularly planting wheat and fewer still are having our personal feuds boil over into agricultural vandalism. It’s also a pretty weird way to sabotage someone; imagine someone sneaking into your yard at night and blowing dandelion tufts into your grass. But this was an actual occurrence in Jesus’ time, and disagreements often led to this sort of thing. If someone felt wronged by their neighbor, or when nations went to war with one another, is was common for them to go slash their grape vines, cut down their olive trees, or sow salt in their fields so crops would struggle to grow. Sowing weeds was just another revenge tactic. In this case Jesus was likely talking about sowing darnel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lolium_temulentum), a plant that looks like wheat as it sprouts but can be easily distinguished at the time of harvest. Darnel yields poisonous seeds instead of edible wheat, making this a serious offense. So serious, in fact, there was a Roman law specifically banning the sowing of darnel seeds, another indication this parable was a realistic scenario.
So what is Jesus telling us through this story of a farmer’s feud? As we’re starting our journey into Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom, there are some helpful introductory aspects to this story. Unlike many of his other parables, Jesus gives an explanation for this one in 13:36-43, so first off we learn that the Kingdom of God isn’t a geographic destination (in fact, none of his parables paint the Kingdom as a place). Instead of being the Kingdom, the field is actually the world, and in the world there are wheat seeds, representing the “sons of the Kingdom,” and weed seeds, representing the “sons of the evil one.” In Jesus’ parable there are only two options for everyone in the world, and we learn that not everyone in the world, or in our neighborhoods or workplaces, is a “son of the kingdom.” We learn that right now it can be quite hard to distinguish between the two, but a day is coming when the difference will be plain.
We also learn some things about what it means to be a “son of the kingdom.” The wheat didn’t do anything to jump into the master’s field, it was put there. If you’re a member of God’s Kingdom it’s because you were placed by God, not because you signed up for admittance or passed the entrance examination. And to stray outside the metaphor for a moment, one of the miracles of the Kingdom is that we all started out as weeds and were made into wheat or sons of the Kingdom by the saving grace of Jesus. As we think about our neighbors and co-workers and friends who aren’t in the Kingdom, the good news is that they can be transformed and transferred in just like we were.
In Jesus’ explanation we see that the wheat wasn’t immediately removed from the field for a specific purpose: the master wants the plants to bear seed. In the High Priestly Prayer (John 17) Jesus prays to the Father regarding his disciples, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” We aren’t removed from the field of the world but rather sent into it. And how do we go about being in the world? By growing and maturing, fulfilling the purpose for which God placed us there. The New Testament has much to say on what it means to bear fruit, and all of it has to do with obeying God’s word and reflecting his character to the world (see Matt. 3:8, Gal. 5:22).
Questions for Discussion
• Since this parable has an explanation, let’s read both. Would one person read Matthew 13:24-30 and another read 13:36-43?
• What stands out to you from this parable?
• What do you think Jesus was describing about the Kingdom of God here?
• What does this parable tell us about what it means to belong to the Kingdom?