Depending on how you define it, Jesus told anywhere from a dozen to fifty parables. Basically, a parable’s a story with a meaning that’s used to teach a lesson. But it gets more complicated after that, because the lesson is often more than what’s obvious in the story. Parables can have a lot of perspectives, a lot of layers, and they invite a lot of thought. That’s why Jesus used them so often.
Out of all those parables, Jesus seems to offer his own explanation only twice, both farming stories, both found in the same chapter of Matthew’s gospel. They’re most commonly referred to as the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Weeds. Yes, I said “seems to” just then. Many biblical scholars now think that it wasn’t Jesus at all, but the author of the gospel (or a later author) who added them so that the it would be clear that the point was consistent with the themes of the gospel.
There’s many good reasons to think that. The very simple one I like is that Jesus used parables as a teaching tool. Why would he tell the story if he had to explain it? He almost never does, except here, and I think he almost never does, not because the meaning’s obvious, but because he wants us to think about it. Many parables have multiple meanings. Many prompt additional questions or thoughts. There’s more than one point and the Parable of the Weeds is a really good example of that.
Jesus tells this parable. A farmer plants a field with wheat. An enemy sneaks in and plants weeds so that when the field begins to grow, the weeds appear with the wheat. The farm workers want to go and pick out the weeds, but the farmer says that might damage the wheat, so let the wheat and weeds grow together. Then, when the field’s harvested, they can be separated, the wheat for grain and the weeds for burning.
The author of Matthew gives Jesus a perfectly reasonable explanation to offer: the field is the world, the enemy is the devil, the wheat is children of God, the weeds children of the devil. At the harvest, angels send the good to the good place and the bad to the fiery place.
Ok. I guess. As long as you remember that it’s God who judges who’s wheat and who’s weed, not us. And that you believe God does that judgement thing, rather than offer love and grace to all. And that you believe there’s a good place and a bad place in the next “life.”
But, what’s a weed, anyway? That’s so subjective. Isn’t it just something that naturally occurs where you didn’t want it? A plant that doesn’t seem to belong? What if the field is, indeed, the world, but the purpose is to show that we all belong together, the ones we each think of as valued as well as the ones we think of us weeds, because we’re all valuable. And, since this is the world, where we end up might be more about intention than judgement. A “weed” can have a purpose.
Maybe this could be about reminding us that what we perceive as good and bad do coexist in this world. But maybe it could be about belonging, rather than judgement. Maybe it’s about how quick we can be to judge and want to root out anything and anyone that doesn’t seem to belong because they’re not the same. Maybe the farmer isn’t “the Son of Man” so much as the Creator and maybe this is a world where all things can belong because they’re all valued, just as they are.