Friday, July 04, 2008

The parable of wheat and poisonous weeds

I am still intrigued at an interpretation of the parable of the wheat and chaff I read a while ago.

In the parable, a weed is spotted by the servants growing among the wheat. Apparently this particular weed was poisonous and was well-known to the farmers in Israel at the time who knew that it was essential to remove it as fast as possible to stop it contaminating and destroying the entire wheat crop.

In the parable, the landowner orders the servants not to remove the weeds in case they accidentally remove a bit of wheat too. Here the landowner exemplifies two attributes: greed, and ignorance of sensible farming practices.

Israel at the time of Jesus had a serious economic problem of mortgagee sales, where farming families lost their ancestral land to rich and greedy landowners (and then would often be the servants on that land). So, imagine the parable ended here, and consider what Jesus' hearers would think. They would see him as describing such a landowner who has gained control of some land and that as a result of greed and ignorance has given a stupid command that results in his entire crop becoming contaminated by poisonous weeds.

If the story ended there, Jesus' listeners (presumably farmers) would have laughed at the stupidity of such landowners and the genre of the parable would be essentially a political parody as Jesus reinforced the stupidity of what was happening within Israel.

Of course, in the gospels as we have them, the story doesn't end there and gets interpreted as being about God and final judgment. A lot of scholars believe that the gospels misinterpret several of Jesus' parables in this manner, reinterpreting them to be about God
when originally they were political/economic parodies
. Given that such a massive proportion of Jesus' ministry (80% or so?) is about economics anyway, offhand it would seem unsurprising if these parables were too.


Blogger Andrew Perriman said...

Hi, Andrew, I came across your blog through a comment you recently posted on Chrisendom.

I don't know if there is any real exegetical basis for the corrupt landowner interpretation, but there may be a way to connect it with the more traditional reading. I would argue that this is a parable not of 'final judgment' but of judgment on Israel - to be fulfilled in the events of AD 66-70. I think that Jesus' interpretation in Matthew 13:37-43, which draws heavily on Daniel's Son of man story, strongly points in this direction. But judgment on Israel was because of the sort of injustice demonstrated by your foolish landowner. Of course, as the story is told in Matthew that foolishness is presumably part of the parabolic irony. But perhaps the socio-economic background is not so irrelevant.

Blogger Sister Judith Hannah said...

Dear Andrew,

I read your blog with interest. Today, I'd like to add a few thoughts to your post, if I may.

After the rain a few days ago, our parched garden became more workable. I saw a sprawling weed close to one of my 5" high struggling bean plant. So, diligently I routed the weed, complete with roots as well as leaves, etc.
Guess what happened?
My bean plant slumped over! Obviously by uprooting the weed I had inadvertently disturbed by bean. Quickly, I re-packed the soil around it and hopefully, with some fish emulsion to coax it on, it will resume growth and produce some beans.

I think the parable is like that: if you pull up the weeds growing amongst the good plants, you will likely pull up the good plants too... especially if they are smaller than my 5" bean plant! If the roots are disturbed at the wrong time, they will not bear fruit.

Without the weeds, the fruit would be better, of course. But if the roots are too disturbed, as when one pulls weeds close to it, the plant will bear no fruit at all... not even little fruit!

The parable mentions nothing about the weed being poisonous. Many weeds are NOT: dandelion, chickweed, sorrel, mints ... to name a few. They abundantly crowd out my vegetables every year.

I think the focus is upon the necessity for FRUIT being born... for the Husbandman looketh for the fruit... in our lives, as well as in the beans. (See John 15.)

Just a thought...

Sister Judith Hannah
Order of the GOOD SHEPHERD+

Blogger semper creditum said...

it seems to me that the background facts you point out-- the fact that most knowledgeable farmers would have pulled up the weeds-- lends some interest to the interpretation later given in the gospel. The common sense thing-- what the servants suggest-- is not what the landowner does. (This theme fits with other parables, e.g. the landowner who gives equal wages for unequal time.) The landowner's actions are counterintuitive, which is what would have made the parable striking.

The reason given is that he seems to care for each blade of wheat. Some of the blades are inextricably linked with the weeds. This says something about the difference between God and other rulers. I think it stretches the allegory a little too far to then speculate about what the overall outcome would have been in that practice were actually carried out with the relevant kind of weed.

Blogger Eddie Miller said...

If you want a song for your wheat and weed sermon please download free song at


Eddie Miller


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