How familiar are you with farming? That was my opening line last Sunday, and I have to repeat it again today because the parable we’ve just heard requires quite detailed agricultural knowledge, as well as geographical and historical. I’m not going to pretend I have such knowledge off the top of my head, so let me share with you what I’ve found out.
Darnel usually grows in the same production zones as wheat and was a serious weed of cultivation until modern sorting machinery enabled darnel seeds to be separated efficiently from seed wheat. The similarity between these two plants is so great that in some regions, darnel is referred to as “false wheat”. It bears a close resemblance to wheat until the ear appears. […] Wheat will appear brown when ripe, whereas darnel is black. Darnel can be infected by an endophytic fungus. The French word for darnel is ivraie (from Latin ebriacus, intoxicated). This expresses drunken nausea brought on by eating the infected plant, which can be fatal. The French name echoes the scientific name, Latin temulentus which means drunk. (Wikipedia)
This short extract from Wikipedia gives us insight into the servants’ mind in the parable. They had good reasons to act swiftly. Obviously, some of the wheat would be collateral damage; but it would be a price worth paying for future crops of high purity. It was completely understandable and pretty much in line with the standard practice of the times. The unexpected twist in the parable came with the owner’s decision to let both wheat and darnel grow until they showed their true colours. The separation would take place at the time of harvest.
The central character of the parable is the owner of the field of wheat. Of course, Jesus meant God. Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom beautifully describes God’s mercy, patience, and desire to lift us up and out of our weaknesses and sins. First and foremost, each one of us must acknowledge his or her need for God’s mercy and forgiveness, which He readily grants. But the story doesn’t stop here. Let’s listen to what the Book of Wisdom has to say: ‘By acting thus you have taught a lesson to your people how the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow men.’ If you want to weed out anything, it must be the evil within you. You must be radical in your fight against your weaknesses and sin. Do you remember the story of a young man called Saul, who ferociously persecuted the early Church? We know him better as St Paul, the Church’s greatest preacher. Leave judgment to God, who knows human hearts. He can even turn the poisonous darnel into precious wheat.