The “Tare-ible Parable
It’s early in the morning and you are VERY sleepy. You have no choice; you have to get up and get going. You find your way into the kitchen and see that the coffee pot has some coffee left in it that could be microwaved and made hot. It would help wake you up. You fill your favorite mug. After you’ve done this, you reach back to the counter and automatically pour some of the powder in the container from the counter into your coffee. You sit down and begin to drink. One swallow and you practically blow it back out. “Who ruined a perfectly good cup of coffee by adding salt instead of sugar?” you say out loud.
Sometimes you can’t take things back or apart and restore them to their original condition. Jesus tells a parable, sometimes known as “The Wheat and the Weeds.” It tells about two things that get put together after which they could not then be separated. The good seed, wheat, gets mixed into weeds’ seeds. At the end, the wheat is harvested and sorted and the weed is burned as trash. At the end of this silly illustration, the coffee is tossed down the drain and another cup of coffee is prepared.
There are several lessons in this parable. One obvious one is that ultimately, actions done catch up with a person and there is judgment. Prayerfully, carefully done actions lead to being part of the Kingdom. The other actions (ones more significant than the coffee problem) will be led to the furnace of fire.
Jesus gives us an example of three connected items: behavior, consequences and judgment. By speaking in parables, Jesus teaches the crowd in a different way. The hearers often didn’t “get it.” An explanation does not seem to help them understand. People in the crowd asked Jesus why he teaches in riddles. Jesus tells them that those outside hear only the riddles, but His followers have the ability to understand that the kingdom lives in a mystery. Jesus gave his own followers who “had a clue” a bit more explanation.
Robert Capon looks at what happened this way. The seed-sewer is God the Father, not Jesus. Jesus comes as the Word (recall that Jesus is the Word in the beginning of John). In the plain terms of the parable, Jesus has already and quite literally, been sown everywhere in the world—without a single bit of earthly cooperation or even consent. We are not “bringing Jesus to the heathen.” What we had to bring was the Good News of what the Word had already done for them.
Think of a seed. It is extremely small considering what it becomes. And then, in the process of the growing, the seed itself completely disappears. Jesus’ work is like that of a seed; it proceeds in mystery. It “works” on its own terms. The response needed from us is that we abide in the power of the Word Himself, bearing fruit.
Judgment is often not hasty, but it comes. This parable, like many others in Matthew, indicates that there will be a judgment and separation at some time in the future: weeds and wheat (13:30, 40-43), good and bad fish (13:47-50), sheep and goats (25:31-46), but this "harvest" takes place on God's time-table not ours. The final judgment is God's, not ours.
Our presence in the world as Christians is to become as much as possible, living Gospel bearers. We are to be the light in others’ darkness. We are to be light when darkness will surely try to snuff us out. We are to be the good in the world with the full awareness of some of what the resistances will be. We are be seasoning when blandness and conformity and acceptability are always easier paths.
Part of the problem illustrated in the weed and seed parable is that when the plants of each are young, a person can't tell the weeds apart from the wheat. Both the good and the bad ones look the same. Often in life we don't have the proper perspective, trust, or knowledge to determine who or which is good and who or which is bad.
When the plants are older and differences can be seen, their roots are so intertwined, that the bad can't be pulled out without destroying the good.
It is a warning to you and me not to judge people at all, and it is a warning that in the end we face the judgment of God. The only person with the right to judge is God. It is God alone who can discern the good from the bad.
Finally, it is suggested that if we refer to the weeds in this parable as “tares” (many versions do) then we can call our sermon or article about Jesus’ story as “The “Tare-ible Parable.”