Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wheat 'n' Tares.

I'm not going to type out the whole parable, as it's a bit lengthy, but I'm about to post on the Wheat and Tares parable from Matthew 13. It's from verses 24-30.

I've seen this verse used before in describing those destined for heaven and those for hell. Obviously, the wheat are the saved, and the tares are the lost. But can we really say that the wheat and tares represent people?

The farmer would clearly be the Son of Man (given that it's what Jesus said), who has created the "wheat," if we're using a people comparison. That works. God creates all of humanity. Then the enemy comes, and sows the tares. Here's where the comparison would fall apart for me: only God can create man. The enemy cannot. So we can't then say that the enemy also created other people, which are the tares. But if the tares aren't created people, then can we really say that the wheat are also created people?

Except Jesus does -- in verses 37-43, he says that the good seed are the children of the Kingdom, and the tares are the children of the evil one. When the harvest comes, the angels will gather everything that makes men stumble, and those whose deeds are evil, and they'll be thrown into a blazing furnace, while the righteous will shine as bright as the sun.

This is almost taking universalistic tendencies at this point, since every person on this earth would have to be the wheat. The enemy can't create. Yet the tares are specifically called the children of the evil one, and are separate from the wheat. They grow together, but always remain separate. There's also no point at which a tare becomes a wheat. The wheat belongs to the Creator from the very moment it's planted. Same with the tares.

(On a side note, Jesus says that the Son of Man is the sower of the good seed. But I'm not sure that we can then say the Son of Man is the Creator, because he simply planted the seeds, he didn't create the seeds that were planted).

The tares are almost two-fold. They are things that cause men to stumble, as well as those who deeds are evil (and another interesting thing: this is action-oriented only, with no mention of faith. Deeds are what get the tares out of the kingdom). However, while the tares are called the children of the devil, are they ever referred to as men? In the explanation, Jesus says "those/them" which do evil things. But he never says "people." Simply because he earlier says the children, can we really say that it's the same kind of children?

The other interesting thing about this parable is that it refers to the kingdom of God, and it's not something that is seen as instantaneous. In the parables before and after this, the kingdom of God is something that takes time to develop. It's also something that people are a part of at that moment, not something that people step into after death. In this particular parable, the enemy is also within this kingdom, sowing tares, and those tares are gathered out of the kingdom at the end of time.

12 comments:

SocietyVs said...

I don't think Jesus creates them - since he mentions this idea of seed - which could also be used as synonamous with 'teaching/words'. Maybe Jesus is referring to the message we both recieve and build upon (or grow from) - this makes one a wheat or a tare.

The strange thing about tares in that parable is 'what good are they for' - they can't be used like 'wheat' can - they are evil in the sense they 'do nothing'. Can Jesus be referring to idea that kingdom of God's ethics are best served in action?

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

Wow, you were fast. :)

** since he mentions this idea of seed - which could also be used as synonamous with 'teaching/words'. Maybe Jesus is referring to the message we both recieve and build upon (or grow from) - this makes one a wheat or a tare. **

I'm not sure about the seed synonamous with teaching/words, just because the seed grows into wheat, which is specifically referred to as a child of God. That, and the enemy doesn't grab a seed that the Son of Man planted, but rather plants a seed of his own. It seems that if this were following doctrine, the wheat should've been created deformed, and then changed at the end of time, to work with the original sin concept. But the wheat is born pure, and remains pure.

**Can Jesus be referring to idea that kingdom of God's ethics are best served in action?**

The other interesting thing is that the tares aren't removed immediatly, but must grow next to the wheat, so that the reapers don't damage the wheat when removing the tares. Both must be full-grown before the tares are dealt with, as though once again using action to determine who is wheat, and who is a tare. Wouldn't the reapers have foreknowledge as to who is what? Why would they need to wait for evidence before deciding?

Mystical Seeker said...

Dominic Crossan argues that the Kingdom of God is what life would be like if God, rather than Caesar, were in charge of the world. Thus his parables about the Kingdom of God would have to be interpreted in that light.

OneSmallStep said...

Mystical,

In many ways, I don't see how Jesus' parables can be interpreted in any way other than how Dominic Crossan describes. It describes a very present reality that we are all invited to take part in. The mustard seed, the leavened bread -- it's something small, that grows. Or in John, when Jesus says that the harvest is now, and we just need to look in a different way.

SocietyVs said...

"I'm not sure about the seed synonamous with teaching/words, just because the seed grows into wheat, which is specifically referred to as a child of God" (OSS)

I still think it makes sense in that light - the seed is what you grasp to and build/live from (or grow up into). The seed is not defined in this parable but it is defined in the same chapter - the sower and the 'seed' - and in this parable 'seed' is defined as 'word of the kingdom' (vs.19). Even the mustard seed (vs 31) seems to be working off the same idea - living by the teachings and growing?

The idea they are children is accurate but I am not sure they are created by either Jesus or the enemy - it seems the people choose who to identify with and defining 'seed' becomes the key here.

"Why would they need to wait for evidence before deciding?" (OSS)

This is a very good point. It seemed that both aspects grew together and then were idenitified by who they obviously were (a wheat or a tare) - I think again we find a parable in the gospel talking about action accounting for our character.

For me, the problem is vs. 41: "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness"

This also seems to be about the 'end of the age' or some coming 'judgment' based on the same idea of 'committing lawlessness'. Same term Jesus upbraids people for in Matthew 7:23 - also seemingly concerning a 'judgment'. I think if we rule out a judgment of some sort from God - then we might be taking away from what is in that parable?

In the end that parable is merely saying something simple anyways - either do good (be lawful) or do evil (do not be lawful) - but know that your actions will have reprecussions at some point. The kingdom of God is not about doing evil - but about doing things that help us grow (obviously) and the others around us.

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

The nitty-gritty of the Bible. It's fun. :)

**The seed is not defined in this parable but it is defined in the same chapter - the sower and the 'seed' - and in this parable 'seed' is defined as 'word of the kingdom' (vs.19). Even the mustard seed (vs 31) seems to be working off the same idea - living by the teachings and growing? **

It might depend on how one defines "defines." Not to be cute with this, because now it's going to get really technical. Jesus does directly link the good seed as the children of God. They are used to represent people, where all the other parables use seed to reference words. So the seed is defined in the explanation, and it looks like it's the only parable that requires an explanation. In this specific parable, there doesn't seem to be a choice involved, almost. Who you are is based on who sowed the seed.

That's why I'm having difficulty labeling seeds with words in this parable. There's no choice involved. The seeds the son of man sows are the children of God, the seeds the enemy sows are not. There aren't any words involved, or learning or growing. Wheat can only grow into wheat. There is a determination at the end as to what is what, and a warning that dislodging the tares too soon dislodges the wheat. So does that mean that each are the same on the surface?

**For me, the problem is vs. 41: "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness" **

I actually find this verse very interesting, because it's almost calling perception into account. Those who/that are stumbling blocks, or commit lawlessness. This is something we'd see, and seeing is very much connect to surface. Take murder: those who commit murder would be seeds of the enemy, and thus his children. But the enemy can't create. So anything that the enemy does do, the "children" like murder and such ... how much of that is actually a part of our identity?

I also like the line "then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." One, because the wheat weren't placed into the kingdom, but the tares were almost removed from the kingdom. Second, the wheat always were righteous, from the moment of being "sowed."

But I do agree that the concept of law is very much applied to the concept of doing good. There seems to be a negative perception of the law on Christianity, and how it's used to tell one how sinful and awful they are. But the law is a force of good in this parable, and Jesus sees it as a force of good, and righteousness. It's something that should uplift people.

cipher said...

I think the traditional Christian explanation would be that God creates everyone, but one becomes God's "child" only when one accepts Jesus. One gets adopted, as it were - grafted onto the tree, the stock of Abraham. If one doesn't accept Jesus (tacitly rejecting God, yadda yadda...), one is then "adopted" by Satan, I suppose. Creation doesn't necessarily imply fatherhood.

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

That would line up with my understanding of traditional Christian theology. However, I don't see that theology supported by this parable at all. If anything, one would have to pull the "this parable doesn't mean what it really says" where words lose all meaning.

Because under this parable, someone is God's child from the moment of creation, and not due to any action on the child's part.

cipher said...

I don't really think this parable provides us with an accurate analogy. The farmer doesn't create the seeds; he cultivates them. I suppose they'd say that if one rejects God, one is giving oneself over to be cultivated by Satan. But where do the seeds come from?

This is something about conservative Christians that kills me. When they want to hold us accountable for our actions - we're free moral agents. However, when we lambaste them for their portrayal of a cruel and pitiless God, they counter that we're little better than inanimate matter. He is the "potter", we are the "clay". They want it both ways.

This is what I said to you last week. You'll never be able to pin them down long enough to get a rational response. The rationalizations will always change, minute to minute - anything to protect the belief system. They aren't interested in logical consistency - they care only about ontological security and the alleviation of guilt. They want to feel safe from condemnation, "forgiven" for being the depraved creatures they see themselves as being. What happens to you and me doesn't matter. This is the nature of addiction.

Sorry to be a broken record, Heather. I'm just hating them more than usual these days.

OneSmallStep said...

Cipher,

This is a problem I'm finding with most parables: it's difficult for me to match most of them with that type of theology unless the parables are "re-worked," in a way. As you said, it's anything to create the belief system, even if it means twisting the very thing that the belief system is based on.

I was assuming the seeds came from God, who then gave them to the farmer. As you said, the farmer doesn't make the seeds. However, this would then put a human element creating more human elements back into the original creation.

That, and I find it affecting the whole "go to heaven when one dies" idea, because this world is referred to as the son of man's kingdom, and the tares are removed *out* of the kingdom, rather than the wheat re-locating.

It's just that seeds can't "give" themselves to anything. Seeds can only do what they're supposed to do. They are affected by outside influences, such as soil and sunlight. But they don't have a choice in how to respond.

**Sorry to be a broken record, Heather. I'm just hating them more than usual these days.**

It's okay. Same days, it's very frustrating confronting that. Better to vent here than go out and hit someone. No jail time. :)

thoughtsofaseeker said...

I think the question of creation is not the message of the parable but for the sake of discussion I think the created people are most appropriately represented by the ground and the people we become through our choices are represented by the relative wheat and tares (by their fruits ye shall know them) and then the harvest being a judgement at the end as previously discussed.

I think the idea of people being represented by the ground or soil is also evident in the preceding parable of the sower or perhaps more appropriately called the parable of the soils, with the different kind of soils being the conditions of the heart.

The implications for the question of creation are that Christ created all with an equal capability of embracing seeds leading to wheat or seeds leading to tares. Through choice, namely embracing Christ and righteousness as opposed to the enemy of righteousness, we are responsible for what we become.

OneSmallStep said...

Thoughtsofaseeker,

The idea of people being the ground is an interesting one, and one that I haven't previously considered.

However, it does fall apart for me. I realize I'm about to resurrect the horse I've already killed and beat it to death again, but I do have a problem in terms of seeing this parable as a matter of "choice." If we go with the idea that the soil are people, and the wheat are the choices that people make that are good, we have the soil then becoming the wheat. In the previous parable, we have Jesus directly linking the soil to man, and the seed to the word. In this parable, we have Jesus directly linking the seed itself to the children of God, with the soil simply being the Earth/world. He also links the soil to the kingdom of God, and that the wheat stay within that kingdom after the Harvest.


**Through choice, namely embracing Christ and righteousness as opposed to the enemy of righteousness**

I'm not sure this works for the parable, especially given all the parables that surround it. Noting in these suggest accepting Christ as a Savior to accomplish anything. The closest we might come is the parable of the soils, as you referred to, in terms of the type of man who hears the word -- but the word in this context is not that Christ has died for one's sins, because that didn't occur yet.