Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 13:36-43


Matt. 13:24-30; Matt. 13:36-43

Jesus put forward another parable. “The Kingdom of Heaven,” he said to them, “is like what happened when a man sowed good seed in his field. When men slept, his enemy came and sowed darnel in the middle of the corn, and went away. When the green grain grew, and when it began to produce its crop, then the darnel appeared. The servants of the master of the house came to him and said, `Sir, did we not sow good seed in your field? From where, then, did it get the darnel?’ `An enemy has done this,’ he said to them. The servants said to him, `Do you wish us to go and collect the darnel?’ But he said, `No; for if you gather the darnel the danger is that you may root up the corn at the same time. Let them both grow together until the harvest time; and at the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather the darnel and bind them into bundles for burning. But gather the corn into my storehouse.”‘”

When he had sent the crowds away, he went into the house. His disciples came to him. “Explain to us,” they said, “The parable of the darnel in the field.” He answered: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world. The good seed stands for the sons of the Kingdom; the darnel is the sons of the evil one. The enemy who sowed it is the devil. The harvest is the end of this age; the reapers are the angels. Just as the darnel is gathered and burned with fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather all the stumbling-blocks, and all those who act lawlessly, out of the Kingdom, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; and weeping and gnashing of teeth will be there. Then the righteous will shine as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Who has ears let him hear.”

The pictures in this parable would be clear and familiar to a Palestinian audience. Tares were one of the curses against which a farmer had to labour. They were a weed called bearded darnel (Lolium Temulentum). In their early stages the tares so closely resembled the wheat that it was impossible to distinguish the one from the other. When both had headed out it was easy to distinguish them; but by that time their roots were so intertwined that the tares could not be weeded out without tearing the wheat out with them.

Thomson in The Land and the Book tells how he saw the tares in the Wady Hamam: “The grain is just in the proper stale of development to illustrate the parable. In those parts where the grain has headed out, the tares have done the same, and there a child cannot mistake them for wheat or barley; but when both are less developed, the closest scrutiny will often fail to detect them. I cannot do it at all with any confidence. Even the farmers, who in this country generally weed their fields, do not attempt to separate the one from the other. They would not only mistake good grain for them, but very commonly the roots of the two are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them without plucking up both. Both, therefore, must be left to grow together until the time of harvest.”

The tares and the wheat are so like each other that the Jews called the tares bastard wheat. The Hebrew for tares is zunim, whence comes the Greek zizanion (GSN2215); zunim is said to be connected with the word zanah (HSN2181), which means to commit fornication; and the popular story is that the tares took their origin in the time of wickedness which preceded the flood, for at that time the whole creation, men, animals and plants, all went astray, and committed fornication and brought forth contrary to nature. In their early stages the wheat and the tares so closely resembled each other that the popular idea was that the tares were a kind of wheat which had gone wrong.

The wheat and tares could not be safely separated when both were growing, but in the end they had to be separated, because the grain of the bearded darnel is slightly poisonous. It causes dizziness and sickness and is narcotic in its effects, and even a small amount has a bitter and unpleasant taste. In the end it was usually separated by hand. Levison describes the process: “Women have to be hired to pick the darnel grain out of the seed which is to be milled…. As a rule the separation of the darnel from the wheat is done after the threshing. By spreading the grain out on a large tray which is set before the women, they are able to pick out the darnel, which is a seed similar in shape and size to wheat, but slate-grey in colour.”

So then the darnel in its early stages was indistinguishable from the wheat, but in the end it had to be laboriously separated from it, or the consequences were serious.

The picture of a man deliberately sowing darnel in someone else’s field is by no means only imagination. That was actually sometimes done. To this day in India one of the direst threats which a man can make to his enemy is “I will sow bad seed in your field.” And in codified Roman law this crime is forbidden and its punishment laid down.

The whole series of pictures within this parable was familiar to the people of Galilee who heard it for the first time.


Matt. 13:24-30; Matt. 13:36-43 (continued)

It may well be said that in its lessons this is one of the most practical parables Jesus ever told.

(i) It teaches us that there is always a hostile power in the world, seeking and waiting to destroy the good seed. Our experience is that both kinds of influence act upon our lives, the influence which helps the seed of the word to flourish and to grow, and the influence which seeks to destroy the good seed before it can produce fruit at all. The lesson is that we must be for ever on our guard.

(ii) It teaches us how hard it is to distinguish between those who are in the Kingdom and those who are not. A man may appear to be good and may in fact be bad; and a man may appear to be bad and may yet be good. We are much too quick to classify people and label them good or bad without knowing all the facts.

(iii) It teaches us not to be so quick with our judgments. If the reapers had had their way, they would have tried to tear out the darnel and they would have torn out the wheat as well. Judgment had to wait until the harvest came. A man in the end will be judged, not by any single act or stage in his life, but by his whole life. Judgment cannot come until the end. A man may make a great mistake, and then redeem himself and, by the grace of God, atone for it by making the rest of life a lovely thing. A man may live an honourable life and then in the end wreck it all by a sudden collapse into sin. No one who sees only part of a thing can judge the whole; and no one who knows only part of a man’s life can judge the whole man.

(iv) It teaches us that judgment does come in the end. Judgment is not hasty, but judgment comes. It may be that, humanly speaking, in this life the sinner seems to escape the consequences, but there is a life to come. It may be that, humanly speaking, goodness never seems to enter into its reward, but there is a new world to redress the balance of the old.

(v) It teaches us that the only person with the right to judge is God. It is God alone who can discern the good and the bad; it is God alone who sees all of a man and all of his life. It is God alone who can judge.

So, then, ultimately this parable is two things–it is a warning not to judge people at all, and it is a warning that in the end there comes the judgment of God.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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