When Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the tares, look below the surface meaning and you’ll find it’s about more than judgment.
If you’ve been around church very much you’ve probably heard the story of the wheat and the tares. They both are growing together in the field, but the wheat are saved and the tares are burned up in judgment.
The story is one of the parables Jesus tells in Matthew 13. There’s a farmer, he says, who sows a field of wheat, but unbeknownst to him his enemy comes in the night and sows his field with an unwanted weed called a tare. Apparently the tares look just like the wheat as they sprout and grow, but at some point the farmer and his workers realize an enemy has sown the field with tares. And a discussion arises as to what to do.
The servants said to him, “Do you want us then to go and gather them up?” But he said, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”
This parable is often talked about in a “judge not” context. And as Jesus explains the parable, the harvest is the end of the world, and there is a judging and a burning and a saving. That’s all true. But I think if you look deeper you’ll see it’s also a parable about grace.
Jesus doesn’t have the farmer immediately pull up the weeds for fear of harming the tender new shoots of wheat. He lets them grow together. He lets the tares live in the field. He doesn’t immediately wipe them out and destroy them. There’s grace for the wheat as he is careful of them, cherishing each stalk, not wanting any to perish. And for what they think are the tares, there is grace as they are not immediately destroyed. They are given time to grow and bear fruit. And it is by that which they are ultimately judged.
Sometimes we’re more like the workers than the farmer. We rush from judgment to condemnation. As soon as we recognize the tares as such we immediately want to uproot and destroy. The workers and the farmer could tell which were the wheat and the tares long before the harvest. There were tell-tale signs. Any good farmer would know. They judged righteously.
The point of the story is that he tells his workers to wait on the condemnation associated with the judgment. That’s grace. And I believe that is what Jesus was trying to communicate with the parable of the wheat and the tares.