This time of year —especially with all the spring rain — weeds run rampant in my yard. By the time I get to pull out most of them, they are large enough to identify.
However, when I get ahead of the weeds and start to clear them out when they’re just poking through the soil, I often pull out flowers I didn’t mean to destroy.
Jesus is speaking about the same mishap in the Gospel today with the parable of the weeds and the wheat. This story is also known as the parable of the wheat and the tares. Understanding what “tares” are helps clarify the story.
Look around the church for representations of wheat. Since wheat is used in Communion hosts, it is often represented in church artwork and missalettes.
But you won’t find any tares in that art — even though, it turns out, tares look just like wheat. Until it’s time for the harvest, that is.
Both plants form grain stalks, but wheat sprouts those familiar golden kernels. Tares, better known as “bearded darnel,” a type of rye grass, form small, gray kernels. The fruit of darnel is not good for much, except chicken feed.
“Darnel” comes to us from a Belgian Walloon word darne meaning “drunkenness.” This may be because, when consumed, darnel can have a similar effect on humans: making them stagger, slur words and even vomit. And, if darnel becomes infected with a fungus called ergot, it can even kill.
So the tares in the parable seem to be more than a nuisance weed — they’re actually dangerous.
And yet, there is no way to tell bearded darnel from wheat, until both are ripe. Which is why the Lord cautioned patience in dealing with the weeds and wheat — until the very end, there’s no way to tell what fruit the plants will bear. And we don’t want to lose any wheat.
So that begs the question as we look at our lives: wheat or darnel?
Sometimes it’s easy to see what’s wrong — our actions clearly look like thistles. At other times, it’s not so easy. What we do feels good, looks good, and even tastes good — at the time. But does it bring sickness or health in the long run?
This Sunday’s first reading reminds us that God gave his children “good ground for hope that (he) would permit repentance for their sins.” God is patient and we need to be patient as well. It’s hard to tell wheat from tares, even when you think you know which weed you want to pull out. It might be best to just keep working hard in God’s ground of hope, and wait for the Lord to handle the harvest.
Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of many books.