The Wheat and the Weeds (Part 1), Matthew 13:24-30

Even uneducated people know that evil plays an active role in our world; they may even have a greater experience of it than those who have been to college. Since Jesus came bringing the rulership of God to this world, and did so long ago, what can we say about the ongoing presence and power of evil? Will things always be like this?

Jesus tells us how our world is and how it will be. Listen up!

Matthew 13:24-30

24 Jesus told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 The owners servants came to him and said, Sir, didnt you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?

28 An enemy did this, he replied. The servants asked him, Do you want us to go and pull them up?

29 No, he answered, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.

Commentary

Matthew 13 is full of parables about Gods rulership — also known as the kingdom of heaven — and we learned from the Parable of the Sower that the world will divide in its opinions about Jesus. We all have a horse in this race: knowing how God is going to respond to the division over Jesus. Will he do nothing? Will he destroy the world to eradicate the opposition? Or perhaps something in between.

As you know, Matthew 13 contains many parables that Jesus taught concerning the rulership of God — also known as the kingdom of heaven (verse 24). Each one is designed to teach a different facet of Gods rule through Jesus to help his disciples know what to expect. The crowd hears the parable and can discern what the subject is, but Jesus has already made clear that he will explain the parables only to his disciples (Matthew 13:11).

From the whole of the parable, we learn that the main character is a farmer who has servants to carry out the work; in verse 25 he is simply called a man who sowed good seed. We are soon told that the seed is wheat (Greek sitos). Verse 25 bears the mark — in Greek — of a fresh development: an enemy came in the night sewing darnel (Greek zizanion) all over the field where the wheat was newly sown.

Essential Background

NIVs translation weeds for the darnel makes it sound relatively harmless, failing to reveal why an enemy might do this. We will review the facts. First, wheat and darnel are very hard to tell apart until the plants are more fully grown. Wheat (Latin: Triticum aestivum) and darnel (Latin: Lolium temulentum) are two different species from the same biological family of plants.

Now, here is the kicker: darnel often produces a fungus that releases a toxin useful in repelling insects. If darnel is harvested with the wheat and ground into flour, a person eating that flour will experience a drunken nausea, possibly because an ether compound is part of the toxin. That is why the Latin name for darnel includes the adjective temulentum, meaning drunken in English. Sowing a field with darnel was such a hostile act that the Romans had a law against doing it.[1]

The presence of darnel among the wheat makes the crop commercially useless, but the plants are difficult to tell apart until the heads of grain form, at which time the difference is obvious.[2] This fact will make verse 26 easy to understand. By the time the difference was clear, the roots were so intertwined that pulling the darnel would harm the wheat. Action was only practical at harvest time.

The Mixed Field

As soon as the heads emerged, the difference between darnel and wheat could be seen throughout the field (verse 26). Naturally, the owners servants told him at once (verse 27). He knew immediately that an enemy had done this to the wheat crop (verse 28). Since the owner was unwilling to risk damage to the wheat, the best option was separation of the darnel from the wheat at harvest time (verses 29-30), a labor-intensive operation.

The final stage of the parable was to bundle the darnel for burning, possibly as fuel since forests had gradually become scarce. The wheat would get priority treatment by being placed in the barn (verse 30). In this way the parable ends, without explanation. Jesus will explain the parable to his disciples in verses 37-43.

Snodgrass informs us that this parable has been misused more than any other by people who interpreted it as talking about a mixture of good and evil in the church.[3] But, as we will see in a future lesson, Jesus explained that the field in which the seed was sown was the world (verse 38). This is another example of what I spoke to you about before: many interpreters try to make every part of the Gospels directly about us rather than giving an interpretation comfortable in the original context. You can learn a lot about reading and interpreting the Bible by the simple expedient of avoiding that erroneous practice.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally produced for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used with permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 521.

[2] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 526.

[3] Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008) 214.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!