Sunday, July 16, 2017

Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43: Wheat and Tares Together

Jesus' parable is agriculturally correct - at least according to the artists: let the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest because if you try to pull up the weeds too early you'll pull up the wheat as well. When both are tall enough to tell the difference, pull the weeds, bundle them up and then burn them. (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Proper 11(16)A/Pentecost 7A).

The problem is that the wheat and the weeds look alike. What the Bible calls tares is also known as darnel or darnel wheat (Latin name, Lolium temulentem). The two plants are shown below. Imagine trying to tell the difference between the two when they are even less mature than the plants in the images here.
Darnel is a mimic plant that looks like the species it is invading. The weeds take root and must be sorted out by hand, requiring additional work either early in the growing season or during harvest. In the case of darnel, the invading species has some interesting side effects when ingested.

Nineteenth-century painter Jean-Francois Millet was among the earliest artists to paint peasant subjects - or rather he was early in painting peasants in compositions that emphasized their dignity as human beings rather than their poverty or their lot as workers. Here is a scene of buckwheat harvest that serves as the "summer" subject in a series of four paintings that exemplified the seasons. At the left of the composition is the smoke from a large fire, perhaps the fire where the weeds are being burned.
Millet, Jean-Francois. Buckwheat Harvest, Summer. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts. 1868-1874.
Burning weeds is a reasonably efficient way to eradicate not just the plants but the seeds. Some farmers even burn the residue in their fields in order to get rid of the seeds that have been dropped and the roots that might still be viable. The practice was also documented by artists like Vincent Van Gogh.

After the crop has grown, then you take those weeds, pull them out, bind them up and throw them in the fire that will destroy them. That's one way to think about the text. But before we rush to separate wheat from weeds we should remember that in Jesus' parable, it is clear that now isn't the time and these aren't the workers who will distinguish wheat from weeds and deliver the weeds to their ultimate destruction. That will happen, Jesus says, but that's for someone else to decide on another day.

Who sowed those weed seeds in Matthew's gospel? Take a look at the answer found on one medieval German altarpiece  on the Art&Faith Matters Facebook page. Click on the link below. You can also read about Jacob's dream and a different take on the sower on earlier A&FM blog posts.

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