July and Jesus’ Parables: The Sower and The Wheat and the Tares

The Sower  (Matthew 13:  1–9, 18–23 but also found in Mark 4: 3-9 and Luke 8: 5-8)

“We come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh.  While we live our bodies are moving particles of the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures.”  Wendell Barry

  1. HISTORICAL: Consider other scripture passages and compare:  Isaiah 55:  10-11, 1 Corinthians 3:  6-9, Sirach 6:  18-21.

In Palestine, the field is unplowed, people have trod a path or paths through it, here and there rocky ground or limestone rises through, and thorns and stubble have been growing out of it.  The farmer broadcasts the seed atop the earth before he plows it under.  Planting proceeds plowing.  That’s why seed sprays on pathways, rocky ground, among thorns and on good earth, (Fichtner, Many Things in Parables, p. 15)

Considering the audience of this story, these early Christians were a persecuted people.  The oppression they experience and the cares of the world are not to be allowed to dampen their faith, (Perkins, Hearing the Parables of Jesus, p. 81).

  1. LITERARY: This is more an allegory than a parable, since it has more than one point of comparison, (Fichtner, p. 15).
  2. AESTHETICALLY: There will be severe problems:  frustrated starts, failures, smothering opposition and trials galore.  Yet, despite all the obstacles met in sowing the seed on various kinds of soil, the farmer’s work will succeed,”  (O’Collins, Following the Way, p. 88).  The emphasis on our response to that seems to be the point of the parable.  It is the SEED that has to deal with what it is given, not the sower.  Consider this quote from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”  What kind of seed are you?  Perhaps circumstances have changed you as a seed over time?  What are other influences in your seed life?  Do the various soils bring other examples of people (seeds) to mind?

The Wheat and the Tares  (Matthew 13:  24 – 30)

  1. HISTORICAL: The weeds, or tares, were known as bearded darnel.  When it is sprouting, it looks very much like wheat.  It does not look different until it is at a more advanced stage.  At that point, it is too late to pull it out because the roots have intertwined with each other.  A grain of darnel was slightly poisonous, caused dizziness and sickness and was bitter in taste.  Because of all the problems with the darnel, it was against Roman law to sow it with wheat, (Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 72-74).  The landowner knows the wheat will tolerate the weeds and so he is willing to be patient; but this is not to be underestimated.  Everyone would be able to see that he had weeds in his field.  What shame!  BUT, the landowner would have the last laugh.  Not only would the wheat still be collected, but also the weeds would be burned as fuel.  In a sense, the weeds would be put to good use too.  There is no retaliation toward the enemy in this story.  There is only satisfaction in the goodness that resulted from the situation (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle A, p. 113).
  2. LITERARY: There is an irony in this story that makes the listener pay closer attention.  It is unexpected that the landowner would allow the weeds.
  3. AESTHETICALLY
    • There will always be weeds. Evil exists and so we must stay alert.
    • It is hard to know who the weeds are and who the wheat is. It is easy for us to judge first and ask questions later.
    • God judges people on their whole life, not an individual act. Leave the judging to God.
    • Judgment will come for all of us in the end.
    • Let God be God, (Barclay, p. 73-75).

On this earth, there is good and evil.  Both are present among all people and within all people.  Wheat and weeds grow together.  There is a sense of hope in this.  Richard Rohr says, “If we have to eliminate the weeds before we can love the field, you know what?  You’ll never love anything!”  Although we have sin, all are welcome to be part of the kingdom that is God.  It is not a select group of ideal people that are called.  It Is up to us to see God’s grace in our lives and know God means for us to choose the good.  Just like the landowner, we must be patient with each other and ourselves.

Some questions to reflect upon…

What do you like about the directness and common touch of Jesus’ preaching?

Is there any connection to be drawn between the gran that grows in abundance and Jesus himself as ‘the bread of life’? 

Why does evil have to exist even when we fight against it?  (It is a truth in life.  There will always be evil.  But it will never have the final answer.)

Considering the wheat and the tares, what did the slaves do when they discovered the weeds?  When they got their answer from the landowner, they still may not have understood the answer but allowed the mystery.  (Perhaps the kingdom of heaven will be like that…a final knowing.)  And note, what do the slaves say about how well the wheat is growing?  We are always quick to see what is going wrong…

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