Let the Scriptures Speak
Cracking a Parable
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matt 13:30)
In the story of the wheat and the weeds we have another parable for which Matthew supplies an allegorical interpretation. As in the case of the parable of the Sower, familiarity with the allegorical application can prevent us from hearing the story in another good way, namely as a story on its own, probably the way Jesus first told it.
As we did with the Sower, before we move to the application, let's try to hear the “Wheat and the Tares” as it might have been heard during Jesus’ ministry. First, it is helpful to know that the weed named here is a particular kind (zizania) known for its confusing resemblance to wheat in the early stages of growth. That helps us to understand why pulling up the weeds might uproot the wheat along with them. What, then, is the point of the farmer saying, “Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvester, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn’”?
On one immediate level, this could simply be a story of a clever man getting the better of his enemy. The enemy thought he was duping the land owner into ripping up his crop along with the weeds, but our cool farmer says, in effect, “No, let them both grow together; then we'll have a double harvest—a fuel crop (the weeds, which can be burned) and a food crop (the grain).” The tale could well have had a prior existence as this kind of story, something like a fable from Aesop. But the context here in Matthew's Gospel calls for something more that fits the setting of Jesus' ministry or that of the Church. Such a meaning might be this: Don't you try to judge the righteous and unrighteous of the community; let them grow together till the end, when God will take care of the final sorting out.
Notice that the interpretation Matthew supplies moves the center of gravity to the judgment scene, where the Son of Man sends angels to collect for punishment evildoers, even out of his kingdom. Thus, what may at first have been a plea to church leaders for restraint in judgment becomes a cautionary tale for us all.
Dennis Hamm, SJ
Fr. Hamm is emeritus professor of the New Testament at Creighton University in Omaha. He has published articles in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, The Journal Of Biblical Literature, Biblica, The Journal for the Study of the New Testament, America, Church; and a number of encyclopedia entries, as well as the book, The Beatitudes in Context (Glazier, 1989), and three other books.
**From Saint Louis University