The Weeds Among the Wheat: Reflections on Matthew 13
Hare points out that the allegorical interpretation of the weeds and wheat omits one of the key features of the parable: its emphasis on the landowner's forebearance. What was central to the parable was ignored in the allegorical interpretation. Concludes Hare, "Perhaps Matthew was less pleased than Jesus with God's long suffering" (Hare, 155).
The Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat in Evaluating our Lives Today
Some weeds need to be plucked up, the sooner the better
The parable does not mean that, rather than avoiding negative experiences in life, we are to seek out discordant sounds, funky smells, unpleasant situations and difficult people. An unjust ruler needs to be opposed. A bad habit that hurts ourselves and others needs healing.
Clearly, there are some weeds that need plucking. The sooner the better. If something smells in my fridge, I clean out the whole thing to find the culprit: the moldy lemon in the back of the produce drawer. When I'm baking snicker doodles and I accidentally toss in chili powder thinking it's cinnamon, I scoop it out ASAP before the flavor is ruined.
Appreciating the Weeds in our Lives
The parable of the weeds and the wheat has similar themes to the parables of the mustard seed and yeast that follow it in Matthew's gospel. Mustard seeds and yeast appear small and insignificant, but have big results. Leaven was thought of as an agent of corruption in the ancient world and yet it helps the nourishing loaf expand. Weeds seem dispensable, but their removal destroys the wheat. "Things are seldom as they seem. Skim milk masquerades as cream," Buttercup sings to Captain Corcoran in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera "HMS Pinafore." In this parable, it's more like cream masquerading as skim milk. We can't do without the weeds. What the weeds in your life?
In a recent novel called The Gap Year, by Sarah Bird, a mother, Cam, worries about her teenage daughter, Aubrey, who is about to go off to college:
Because I didn't expose my only child to enough dirt, she will hit the germ factory that is a college dorm with a weak immune system. And she will die of spinal meningitis.... Although I am a slob and raised Aubrey with plenty of messiness, my worst enemy- Recent Studies- now tells me that I should have gone the extra step and provided actual squalor.... If only I'd put a goat in the playpen with my baby she probably wouldn't have asthma today.
This parable is primarily about relationships between people. It's about not judging and not assuming that you and I are wheat and others are weeds. When we judge others and dismiss their contributions and value, we become weeds among the community's wheat.
There may be something in this parable that helps us in introspection as well. Maybe it could help us survey our inner landscape and evaluate the weeds among the wheat that perhaps need pruning, but not plucking up. That might mean that you and I ought to berate ourselves a little less harshly for our flaws and faults. Because, while there aspects of our personality that shouldn't be allowed to take over the whole field, they may just contribute to our life's harvest and our contribution to the world.
And since we know that we often tend to judge others for qualities we dislike in ourselves, it's something worth thinking about.
Alyce McKenzie, The Interpretation Study Bible Commentary on Matthew
Douglas, R. A. Hare, The Interpretation Commentary on Matthew
Donald Senior, The Abingdon New Testament Commentary on Matthew
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.