Monday, July 30, 2007

Wheat and Tares

City Christians often interpret the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares incorrectly, because they do not understand how wheat grows (Matt 13:24-42). Because the tares are still there at harvest time, they assume that Satan will dominate the church age, even as the church spreads its influence. Their mistake is to assume that a bumper crop of weeds and a healthy crop of wheat can grow up together. This is not what happens. Wheat and weeds cannot grow together equally. One will always grow faster and choke out the other.

Sometimes the weeds do get ahead of the wheat. When that happens the farmer really suffers. I remember a crop of wheat like that when I was growing up on a farm. A lack of rain after the wheat had come though the ground stunted its initial growth and the weeds really got away in the dry half of the paddock. When the rain did come the wheat could not catch up. The crop of wheat was so thin on that half of the paddock that it was not worth harvesting. We just ploughed the wheat back into the ground. The rest of the crop was very poor and we just got enough grain to cover the cost of the harvesting. That is what happens when the weeds gain control. The crop fails.

A good crop of wheat is different. Wheat seeds germinate quickly. If the soil has been sufficiently cultivated to kill the weeds, and moisture is plentiful, the wheat will grow quickly. Each wheat plant sends up several tillers, so one plant produces a number of stalks that can carry heads of grain. Within a short time, the wheat will grow enough that the light and moisture is shut out from the weeds below, hampering their growth. Only a few weeds will survive.

As the crop comes into ear, a few weeds will appear above the wheat. In New Zealand, we do not have darvel (tares), but it was not unusual to see heads of wild oats poking out above the wheat. Pulling them was impossible without trampling the wheat, or pulling out the wheat with the wild oats. Harvesting with a combine harvester we had no choice, but screen the wild oats out after the grain was harvested.

However, the situation would be different, if the crop was being harvested by hand. The harvesters could gather the weeds first. They could reach about a an arms length into the crop and clear a narrow strip of tares without trampling the wheat. They would just break off the seed heads, so they would not damage the wheat. When they had harvested a strip of wheat, they could reach into the next strip and clear it of tares. However, this would only be possible, if there were not many tares. There is a limit to how many a harvester could pick out individually in a day.

The tares were gathered, so that they seed did not fall to the ground. They were taken away and burned so that the bad seed could not fall to the ground and corrupt the next crop.

Jesus was describing a good crop of wheat. The fact that it was being harvested, shows that the weeds had not choked out the wheat. The fact that the harvesters could pick out the tares by hand shows that there were not many tares. The fact that the tares were picked individually by hand, while the wheat was harvested by handfuls with a sickle, shows that the wheat vastly out numbered the tares. This is confirmed by the fact that the tares could be stacked in bundles, whereas the wheat filled a barn.

All this means that the parable of the wheat and the tares is not describing and evenly-balanced, uncertain struggle between the church and the world. It is actually an illustration of the church being so successful, that evil persists in only a limited way. The enemy can only work by night (by deception), but even then he is unsuccessful. The Wheat and the Tares is a parable of victory, just like the parable of the mustard seed that follows.


Michael Kruse said...

I seem to recall that the "tares" refers to a particular variety of weed. I heard a botanist say that even to the trained eye it is difficult distinguish between the two until they head becomes mature or "bears fruit."

Great post!

Ron McK said...

You are correct about recognition. Wild Oats are quite difficult to distinguish from wheat, before they come into ear. I understand that the same applies to darnel (tares).

Steve Scott said...

The parable also warns about trying to take out the tares too soon lest wheat be uprooted also. There are churches where the pastors are so zealous about keeping tares out that they uproot quite a bit of wheat in the process. Quite sad.