Proper 11A 2005 Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
Have you had any trouble with the tare weed darnel lately? It seems to me that this inquiry might bring a big question to
our mind. What is it? What does it look like? Does it itch? Will "Head and Shoulders" get rid of it?
When we read the Gospel lesson for today, it is difficult for us. Can we put ourselves in the place of the people in Jesus'
time? The people of that time were part of an early society, by our standards; it was primarily agricultural. Their concepts
of distance and communication were entirely different from our own. As an agrarian economy, the output or crops from the farms-wheat
in this parable-were critically important. It was not something that you read about in the newspapers and wondered if it would
affect the price of bread. The yield from the farms had a clear meaning to the people.
It was the difference between starving and living. The difference between feeding themselves and their families adequately
and going hungry. Jesus uses the allegory of the darnel in the wheat. He does it with the full recognition that his audience
will understand what he is talking about. He knew how important it was to them.
Darnel is not in our daily vocabulary. The tare, darnel, is a troublesome weed since it is very similar to wheat and can
only be easily identified when ripe; if harvested and ground together the flour is spoiled. The plant also is host to a poisonous
fungus. This annual grass-like weed, which grows to a height of four feet, is still widespread in the Near East. (1) It
meant then and means now competition for the vital elements that produce wheat, the "staff of life." The people understood
that this was a real threat to their livelihood. While we would probably suggest a trip to the chemical shop to get "Roundup"
or some other targeted darnel-killer, that was not an option in Jesus' time. The reality was that he was painting a picture
of a crop failure, reduced yields, and possible starvation.
It is hard for us to relate to this story in our land-of-plenty. How many times have you gone to the supermarket and found
no bread on the shelf? It just does not happen in the United States-the land of "amber waves of grain." We would dismiss
any reports we heard of darnel, get in one of our cars, and go to the market to fill our grocery needs. Pretty hard to get
our attention with threats of darnel!
So, it seems pretty obvious that Jesus knew his crowd and how to get their attention. Let's join them and try to see what
he is saying and how it impacts our lives today, in our time and society. There are many conclusions that we could reach in
reading this parable. Some of them are:
1. There is good and evil in the world.
2. Bad things happen that are beyond our control.
3. Jesus is aware of the evil deeds in our life and world.
4. The evil presence is in the world, doing harm -- evil.
5. The darnel or evil will not be a part of the kingdom of God.
How are we impacted by these observations? Do we believe them? What do they mean in our lives? Am I darnel? Are you darnel?
How do we know who is or is not? How do we do our best to be a part of the Kingdom or to be a part of Jesus' family?
In the first place, we can not argue with Jesus or his knowledge. He says that there is good and evil. We have to agree with
this old observation that is confirmed with each morning paper. Each of us has scars in our daily lives that seem to be inflicted
by others. We would probably agree that many of the people in our society live beyond and without the knowledge, reality,
and the acceptance of the love of Christ. We would not and should not call them darnel! But our observation may be that their
lives are damned or at least without the joy of life with Christ. In a world that can be nurtured by the beauty and love that
Christ shares, they seem to be weeds, darnel. Rather than sharing and producing for the good of society, they seem to be on
a different path. A different world away from many.
It seems that is not our concern or within our ability to determine who is and who is not in the Kingdom of God or family
of Christ. Each of us has the responsibility to be the good plant, the good producer, and to devote ourselves to the many
teachings of Christ. Ours is to accept, reflect, praise, and share the love of Christ, and the good life that he shares with
When we are tempted to judge and separate the good and bad, we need to back off and remember that we are to love our neighbor.
Without this love as the focus of our lives, it is likely that we would be considered to be darnel-the weed that Jesus intends
to use for bonfires.
The challenge is for each of us to live our lives as the good grain, the wheat, the staff-of-life. Let us pray for the strength,
faith, and concentration to allow us to keep our course and to inspire others to join us. To share the good news of Jesus
the Christ. Who knows--we may stamp out the darnel. (2)
One story: In January 2000, leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina, invited their favorite son, Billy Graham, to a luncheon
in his honor. Billy initially hesitated to accept the invitation because he struggles with Parkinson's disease. But the
Charlotte leaders said, "We don't expect a major address. Just come and let us honor you." So he agreed.
After wonderful things were said about him, Dr. Graham stepped to the rostrum, looked at the crowd, and said, "I'm reminded
today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who this month has been honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century.
Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of each
passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn't find his ticket, so he reached in
his other pocket. It wasn't there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn't find it. Then he looked in the seat by him.
He couldn't find it.
The conductor said, 'Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I'm sure you bought a ticket. Don't worry
about it." Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to
move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for
The conductor rushed back and said, "Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don't worry, I know who you are. No problem. You don't
need a ticket. I'm sure you bought one."
Einstein looked at him and said, "Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don't know is where I'm going.'"
Having said that Billy Graham continued, "See the suit I'm wearing? It's a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my
grandchildren are telling me I've gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out
and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion.
You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I'll be buried. But when you hear I'm dead, I don't want you
to immediately remember the suit I'm wearing. I want you to remember this: I not only know who I am, I also know where I'm
Even though Billy Graham is still going like the Energizer bunny, he still has that suit and he still knows where he is
gong. Wheat or darnel tare weeds. Which are we?
1. TDNT, Vol 2.
2. Selected Sermons, dfms.org, for Proper 11A, 1999
3. Email from dws1552, 16 July 2005