Guess which is the wheat, and which are the tares. Jesus made this comparison to emphasize the difficulty in discerning between faithful believers and pretenders.
He and his agrarian listeners understood what many of today’s Bible-readers miss in this comparison: Tares, or darnel, host a fungus that can cause a sensation similar to intoxication, but often leads to permanent damage or even death for the unwary eater. It also has a parasitic effect on the wheat field, greedily consuming nutrients needed by the wheat.
This parable is usually interpreted as a warning for the tares within the church to repent and become wheat, a luxury that the actual grain can’t enjoy. But there is another dimension to this parable, embodied by the tares’ parasitic effect on the wheat surrounding it; that is the mortifying effect the human tares exert on the church. The problem with false believers is they often don’t simply sit in the pews, passively occupying space. They talk. And while much of their prattle sounds nice and religious, they too often prove the apostle James right:
James 3:3-10 ESV If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. (4) Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. (5) So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (6) And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (7) For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, (8) but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (9) With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. (10) From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
If you’ve read this blog at all regularly, you know that I tend to harp on this issue of poisoned religion, and for good reason; Christendom desperately needs revival because it’s largely dead. The poison darnel has taken over the wheat field of Christendom, desensitizing the world to Christ’s message of love and holiness, and redemption. The title, “Christian,” has become a byword among nonbelievers, synonymous with hypocrite. As James said, “My brothers, these things out not to be so.”
Make no mistake, God’s angels will indeed cull the harvest, but the tares’ poison will have already had its effect.