As part of a course I am on, we have been looking at some of the parables. Matthew 13: 23-30, 36-43, on the wheat and the tares is particularly rich, and the Rev. Paula Gooder’s new book on The Parables, throws a particularly interesting light on a parable which has long intrigued me. I didn’t know that there was a Roman law against the sowing of darnel (which is the weed at issue) in a wheat field as an act of sabotage; it suggests that the scenario Jesus was outlining was not uncommon. Darnel looks just like wheat at forst, but as it gorws it produces a black seed and a fungus which is toxic to us; those who heard the parable would have known this, which would have made its message even more telling. The contrast between the good seed and the black seed, the one giving life, the other bringing disease and even death is striking.
The focus in this parable is on our experience of the kingdom in the present, although of course there are lessons for the future. It directs our attention to how we deal with the presence of evil and wrong-doing in our world, not just in the church. I have always taken the ‘enemy’ to be Satan, who deliberately sets out to sabotage the kingdom, and was relieved and pleased to see that Dr Gooder suggests this is a reasonable interpretation. This invites the question of what we are to do in the face of deliberate evil, and here, Jesus surprises us (as he so often does). He does not advise that we go out and root up the tares because we might damage the good wheat in the process. His advice is to let God judge.
That’s a good reminder to all those of us who are apt to think we can help God out by judging who is and who is not in his kingdom; we can’t, and we shouldn’t. C451 is fond of saying that God is the only just judge, and that being the case, we should back off. But it invites us to think about what we should do, because the outcome for the tares is not going to be a good one when the harvest is gathered in.
The two main images used by Matthew are interesting. One, used in Matthew 8:12; 22:13 and 25:30 is ‘outer darkness, but here it is more graphic – and fiery. The suggestion is clear – that there will be a judgement and those who are toxic will be subject to it. How we align that with ‘outer darkness’ is another issue.
What can we do? The kingdom is coming, it is here, it is growing. It grows in us, and criticial here is the water of life and the body and blood of Christ. The one garden we can cultivate us our own, and we should concentrate on that rather than on passing judgment on others.