Matthew 13 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

The Enemy's Weeds

As in verses 3-9, Jesus tells an agricultural story that is relatively realistic. Although the color is local, the central character of the story is not a peasant like many of Jesus' hearers; he is a wealthy landowner (v. 27), whereas the farmer in the parable of the sower could easily have been a tenant farmer, a peasant like many of Jesus' hearers. The main character's authority makes him a clearer analogy for God, as in other Jewish parables (such as Sipra Behuq. pq. 3.263.1.8).

"Tares" (KJV) or weeds (NIV) here are darnel (Lolium temulentum), a poisonous weed organically related to wheat and difficult to distinguish from wheat in the early stages of its growth (Jeremias 1972:224). (Calling them "tares" may tempt a preacher given to puns to title a sermon on this passage a "tare-ible parable.") Given the occasional feuding of rival farmers (Derrett 1973:43), it is not surprising that Roman law would specifically forbid sowing such poisonous plants in another's field (Hepper et al. 1982:948) or that one who found an abundance of such weeds would suspect an enemy's hand (v. 28).

Despite the workers' willingness to try (v. 28)-workers regularly uprooted weeds before their roots were entangled with those of the wheat (Jeremias 1972:225; KGmmel 1957:134-35)-it would be difficult for them to root out the many tares at this stage (Manson 1979:193; Meier 1980:147). The weeds had grown enough that their roots were already intertwined with those of the wheat but not far enough that it would be easy to distinguish them from the wheat; uprooting thus might endanger the wheat (v. 29).

After the wheat and darnel were grown, they were easily distinguished, and reapers could gather the darnel, which did have one use: given the scarcity of fuel, it would be burned (v. 30; Jeremias 1972:225; A. Bruce 1979:200). Wheat was normally gathered and bound in sheaves, then transported, probably on donkeys, to the village (or in this case the large estate's own) threshing floor (N. Lewis 1983:123), then stored.

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