Wheat and weeds – building up resilience
Regular columnist James Knight offers his reflections on one of Jesus’ harvest-related parables.
Suppose you're a teacher of four students: Abigail, Barbara, Celia and Diane. Abigail is a brilliant student, Barbara is good, Celia is average and Diane is sub-standard. You have to pair them up in order that each pair contributes to 50% of a science task - how should you pair them to increase your chances of the best overall results?
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Studies show that you're better off splitting up Abigail and Barbara, so that each one of your two best students is paired with each one of your less good students. This is because as a weighted average it is better to pair the students in ways whereby the qualities of Abigail and Barbara are likely to rub off positively on Celia and Diane.
The wisdom in that observation can, I think, be extended to Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares, although I think it is subtle, and stretches beyond the primary purpose of the parable. As a reminder:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So, when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So, the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
In explaining the parable, Jesus tells us that the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world; weeds (tares) are the sons of the evil one and the good seed (wheat) is the sons of the kingdom.
Tares give the appearance of a good crop of wheat, but they diminish the quality of the eventual harvest. In the story, Jesus tells us He will wait until harvest to separate the wheat and the tares, allowing them to grow together until kingdom comes, when the good will survive and the evil will be cast out.
In the meantime, I think this parable holds some good but subtle practical advice for Christians living in challenging times. The wheat plants that thrived under those adverse conditions would have grown to be particularly strong, as qualities that aid survival would have been selected for in unfavourable conditions. A farmer that continued to plant seeds of wheat that had survived among the tares would be planting a strong strain, and the longer this process continued the stronger and more resilient his wheat would be.
Just as allowing the wheat to grow alongside the tares was actually a smart move by the farmer, long term - so too can this apply to our situation as Christians in the world. The challenges and adversities of the world, far from weakening the Christian in his or her pursuit of Godliness, can help us build up our resilience and strength in the face of worldly challenges, because much of the power in the Christian journey is realised not just by what we see blessing us when Christ is at the heart of our intentions, but by the voids we see when He is not.
James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).
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