Wheat or Weed?


“Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:30)

Jesus tells a story about a man who sows seeds and then finds that there are not just good plants growing but also weeds (also called “tares”). The workers are outraged and want to know what to do. It is their instinctive desire to go pull up the weeds and get rid of them immediately. The own says, “No.” They are to wait until harvest time because pulling up the weeds now will almost surely also damage the wheat. The result may be less weeds but it will also result in a smaller crop. It is better to wait.

This story puzzles the hearers. In fact, later in the same chapter, the disciples ask Jesus what it means. The answer is not obvious. Like many parables, thinking about this brings many more questions than answers.

The kind of weeds in the story look a lot like wheat plants. You can see a comparison in the picture with this article. Like many grassy plants, part way through the growth cycle everything looks pretty much the same. And unlike some crops, like tomatoes for example, it is hard to tell the weed from the crop and things are so close that you can’t pull up a plant without damaging the plant next to it. You just have to live with the mess for a while.

But at harvest time, the wheat produces grain and the weed plants don’t. The result is that you can easily tell them apart, Harvest time is a better time to do the sorting. Not now. Later.

The parable reminds us that the world is a complex place. We live right next to people who have different agendas and bear different fruit than we do. It is tempting to root them out. Much of the anti-immigration sentiment that we often hear today comes from this desire for us to sort things out and have a pure field (whatever that means). But this parable reminds us that we need to be more careful about rooting out those people and things we don’t like. We may do a lot of damage in the process and not be helpful in doing what God is doing.

In the end, you can tell more about a person by what they are for than by what they are against. This parable reminds us that in the end, God wants us to bear fruit. When we do, we will easily be seen as grain in the field by the God whose world it is. While some situations call for us to rise up and oppose the bad, we know that in all situations we are to stand strong and work for the good.

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