Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds

There are only about 28 parables that Jesus gave in the New Testament, although he used a lot of figures and symbols in his teachings. But no explanations that he gave at the time to the disciples were handed down – except for two. Jesus explains the very first parable, the famous Parable of the Sower, and this one. It is known as the Parable of the Tares, (or Weeds). Unlike most of the parables, this is found only in Matthew.

A bit of background: “tares” are likely Lolium temulentum, typically known as darnel or cockle. This is a weed that closely resembles wheat in its early phases of growth, before the ears develop.  It could sabotage a farmer’s whole harvest and endanger his livelihood if sowed secretly in his fields.

The context is the same as with the Parable of the Sower: Jesus is in a boat teaching because of the size of the crowd. Here’s the parable:

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

 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.  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.’” (Matt. 13:24-30)

This is followed by another two short parables. After all that comes Jesus’ interpretation to the boys at the end of the day, but only for the story about the weeds:

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matt. 13:26-42)

Using the same term substitution method that was used before produces a spiritual interpretation. As before his terms are underlined, others that have been substituted are [in brackets]:

“The Messianic kingdom may be compared to the Son of Man who [preached] to the people of the kingdom of Heaven in the world; but while everybody was [lost in illusion], the Devil came and [preached] to people of the evil one among the people of the kingdom of Heaven, and then went away.

So when the people of the kingdom came up and bore seers, then the people of the evil one appeared as well.

And [those under sin] of the Son of Man came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not [preach] to the people of the kingdom of Heaven in the world? Where, then, did these people of the evil one come from?’

He answered, ‘The Devil has done this.’ [Those under sin] said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’

But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the people of the evil one you would uproot the people of the kingdom of Heaven along with them.

‘Let both of them grow together until the End of the Age; and at the End of the Age I will tell the angels, ‘Collect the people of the evil one first and bind them in bundles to be burned in the destruction of sin and sinners, but gather the people of the kingdom into [Heaven].’

In both these parables – possibly because Jesus supplied most of the meanings – the interpretations used in countless sermons are about the same. Yet put this way the message seems even stronger and purer than most preaching. It now carries the punch that 2,000 years of popular preaching has softened.

It should also be noted that some of the meanings of terms changed between the Parable of the Sower and this one. In the first, the sower is any teacher of the Gospel, in the second, he is the Son of Man. Likewise, while the seed in the first is the Good News; but in the second, it is the believers.

This will complicate any effort to spiritually interpret the parables, or any scriptural text. But it also points the way to a richer, more poetic vocabulary. One that may indeed help to reveal “new treasures as well as old.”