Wheat & Weeds - Part 2: "Whole-Wheat" His
It’s been quite a while since I last talked about the parable of the wheat and the weeds. I’m sure you remember everything I talked about… right? Well, we’ll just read the parable one more time anyways. If you’d like to follow along, please take a moment to find Matthew 13:24. Our Scripture of focus today is Matthew 13:24-43.
Now, let’s thank God for His Word before we just casually read through it.
(Give thanks to God.)
He put before them another parable, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his people were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed darnel in the midst of the wheat and went away. So when the wheat sprouted and yielded grain, then the darnel appeared also. So the slaves 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 darnel?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ So the slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, “No, lest when you gather the darnel you uproot the wheat together with it. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the season of the harvest I will tell the reapers, “First gather the darnel and tie it into bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my storehouse.” ’ ”
The last time that I talked about the parable of wheat and the weeds was back in February. Back then, however many eons ago that was, I talked about why Jesus used parables. Jesus said that those who want to find the truth will look for it with all their heart, and because they desire the truth with all their heart, then they will find it.
In this parable, though, there’s no need to do that, because Jesus did our homework for us—anyone willing to just read the rest of this chapter will find the answer to the parable starting in verse 36:
The wheat seed represents the sons and daughters of God’s Kingdom—Heaven.
The darnel seed represents the sons and daughters of Satan’s kingdom—the kingdoms of this world.
They live together in this world until the angels gather everyone up, and we all go to be sorted out.
The children of God are saved from the fire while the children of Satan are burned up in the fire.
It’s basically the Gospel. If you believe Jesus and make the commitment to live with a clear conscience, you will not perish but will be resurrected and live forever.
But there’s still one major question left in this parable to answer:
Where do you fit in this story?
Are you a wheat or a weed? And how do you know? You ought to want to know! Do you want to shine like the sun? Or do you want to be thrown into the fire?
To start on our way to figuring out which one you are, let’s talk about the difference between wheat and weeds in real life—the real plant, not the metaphor. When I’m trying to learn something from a parable, I usually try to learn about the real life stuff mentioned in the parable. The plants, animals, culture, history, etc.
Why focus on real life facts about something briefly mentioned in the parable? Well, Jesus is using real life things as symbols for His truths. That’s what a parable is. Last time I said:
“Parables are chronicles that connect creation to the Creator.”
Parables are stories showing us truths about spiritual things by using truths about physical things.
Physical things that the audience would have already understood.
For from the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, both his eternal power and deity, are discerned clearly, being understood in the things created, so that they are without excuse.
Whether it’s the sheer glory of the heavens, or how we get our bread:
From physical truths we might discern spiritual truths.
Harvesting wheat? Burning weeds? These are physical things that even people of today are familiar with, and they can be easily used to teach us a spiritual truth. But the parallels between these plants and ourselves doesn’t stop at “some plants are saved while others are thrown away”—it actually gets a lot more interesting. There are some facts about wheat and darnel that make the parable even more powerful— some facts which were probably common knowledge for the people in Jesus’ time, but that we will have to explore for ourselves.
Let’s talk about wheat. This is going to be more of a study session here than your typical sermon. I’ve put hours and hours of research into this over the last few months, because there are some really cool lessons to be learned about wheat and darnel. So don’t mind if I kind of focus on my notes. Anyways, wheat. Let’s talk first about wheat.
The word used in my translation is wheat, and the original Greek is pretty clear:
σῖτος (sitos). n. masc. wheat, grain. Normally refers to wheat but can also have a general meaning of grain.
It’s most likely referring to the good’ole wheat we know and love today. Now, the wheat we grow today is actually a little different that the wheat grown 2,000 years ago—it’s more commercialized, producing more usable product with higher concentrations of stuff people like—like gluten, for example, which makes bread springy and chewy (and also makes my face itchy). But in essence, today’s wheat or yesterday’s wheat, the basic principles are the same.
Wheat is a grass that has been grown for food for thousands of years. You can make pizza, cereal, sandwiches, cake, all kinds of stuff with it. You can make such awesome stuff out of wheat, because it produces edible seeds—the seeds are what you eat.
The Romans would:
Beat the wheat up—or run over it with a sled (to separate grain from chaff).
Toss it around a lot (to make that chaff fly away in the wind).
Then make all sorts of foods!
(Here, you can see a picture of the threshing floor where ancient Israelites would beat the wheat up. This would separate the husk around the grain, which you cannot digest, from the yummy grain itself.)
Wheat is pretty simple, that’s really all the interesting stuff we need to know, and you might have already known that stuff. But you may not know much about darnel.
So what about the darnel? Well, the word darnel is an English word, it’s just the word the translators in my Bible used. The real Greek word is “zizanion.”
ζιζάνιον | zizanion | dziz-an'-ee-on
Literally means “weeds.”
However, some translations choose “tares,” “cockle,” “vetch,” etc.
(Wait, “cockle?” Like… oysters…!? IMAGINE TENDING TO A FIELD FULL OF OYSTERS, HAHA.)
So, what plant was it, really? There are lots of kinds of weed: dandelions, stickers, thorns, etc.
Well, it’s believed by a lot of scholars that the specific breed of plant here is known as Bearded Darnel also known by its Latin name, Lolium temulentum.
One of the most famous commentaries on this is from John Wesley, who wrote:
“His [the farmer’s] enemy came and sowed darnel—This is very like wheat, and commonly grows among wheat rather than among other grains: but tares or vetches are of the pulse kind, and bear no resemblance to wheat” (Wesley 1818:59)”
I agree that darnel is the most fitting weed for this parable, and I believe that you’ll understand why as we explore what darnel is. It’s actually not a weed as you might think of a weed, but rather a type of ryegrass that you can eat. However, it’s been slowly eradicated over the last few centuries—in fact, it’s classified as “locally extinct” in several countries with highly developed agriculture, such as the UK. It’s been treated this way on purpose, because you really don’t want it growing in your wheat field—which is why it’s considered a weed. Why?
Darnel is poisonous! It has a "mutualistic” relationship with a poisonous fungus.
It’s still debated today, believe it or not, the exact fungus and its classification, but it’s not debated that if you eat it, you will start to get dizzy, nauseous, and get tingly fingers and toes. If you eat enough of it, you can go blind, suffer from hallucinations or psychosis, and you can even die. This disease is called Ergotism; it has been known in one form or another for thousands of years.
It was also once known as “St. Anthony’s Fire.”
Sounds horrible, right? But don’t worry, because you’d have to eat a lot of this poisonous fungus. Most of the time you’d just feel dizzy and lay down for a while if you accidentally ate some bread with darnel mixed in. You see, only a tiny amount typically grows in the seeds of darnel.
In the picture you see here, this is considered a severe case of infection. It can get a lot worse than what you see here, but not without serious negligence or incompetence. So typically, animals suffering from eating darnel won’t just fall over and die, they’ll simply get sicker and sicker over the course of several weeks until they are moved away from the infected field.
But if it’s poisonous, why would anyone let it grow in their field in the first place? If there’s infected grass growing in your wheat field, why would you not immediately remove it?
Because wheat and darnel look almost exactly the same until they get close to the harvest. It’s very hard to tell wheat from darnel in the early stages of growth.
(Here’s some wheat.)
(And here’s some Bearded Darnel.)
It’s easy to tell the difference once they’re ready to harvest, though. (Mature wheat on the left, darnel on the right.) Also, darnel is locally extinct here today, so don’t worry about yourself. Although rare cases of Ergotism do still unfortunately occur in some less developed countries, it’s really not much of a problem today.
So darnel and wheat look extremely similar in the early stages of growth. So much so that it’s often easier to wait to sort them out until harvest time. And you do want to sort them out, because while wheat will make you a delicious cake, darnel will make you a delicious cake that will make your tummy sad.
This fits the parable pretty well:
So when the wheat sprouted and yielded grain, then the darnel appeared also. So the slaves 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 darnel?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ So the slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, “No, lest when you gather the darnel you uproot the wheat together with it. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the season of the harvest I will tell the reapers, “First gather the darnel and tie it into bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my storehouse.” ’ ”
But what else can you learn here from what we’ve explored together?
So he answered and said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world. And the good seed—these are the sons of the kingdom, but the darnel are the sons of the evil one.
If a you were a seed, then the fruit of the plant must be representative of the fruit of your life. Wheat produces fruit, did you know that? Fruit, in a general sense, simply means “Any product of plant growth useful to humans or animals.” So we’re not talking about apples or grapes, we’re talking about basically anything edible a plant makes. So wheat makes fruit that we like to eat.
Any product of plant growth useful to humans or animals.
Does your life bring delicious sustaining bread into other people’s lives, or does your life make them vomit and die? Those are the two extremes, but there’s a lot in between those two, by the way—it’s not that everyone is either a superstar or a mass-murderer. Remember the parable of the seeds:
But what was sown on the good soil—this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces, this one a hundred times as much, and this one sixty, and this one thirty.”
The good things that come out of your life as a follower of Jesus Christ are like the grains of wheat that make all sorts of amazing foods. But someone who doesn’t believe what Jesus taught isn’t likely to go out and produce a multitude wonderful things. You can see that darnel does produce something edible, something that can also be delicious like wheat. But it produces for itself. It produces to reproduce, not to feed anyone else. When anyone else tries to eat it, the fungus in it makes them sick.
The fungus has a mutualistic relationship, remember? The fungus helps the darnel a little bit, and the darnel very very much helps the fungus by providing it a home. The fungus sometimes does get out of control, but it won’t kill the darnel until it gets really bad.
The fungus helps the darnel by acting as a deterrent to anyone who would dare to take away the meager fruit the darnel produced for itself. It keeps people away. And the darnel, in return, provides a cozy home for the fungus.
Satan wants that kind of relationship with us. It starts out small, with the ill effects growing over time, nudging you to acknowledge that something is wrong with your life. Satan wants to shelter selfishness while taking advantage of it—slowly bleeding you out, making you feel more and more miserable.
But each one is tempted when he is dragged away and enticed by his own desires. Then desire, after it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is brought to completion, gives birth to death.
And we need the Holy Spirit within us, to help us avoid being a haunt for unholy fungus. This passage of Scripture just a little bit before the parable we’ve been focusing on illustrates that for us:
“Now whenever an unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it travels through waterless places searching for rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came out.’ And when it arrives it finds the house unoccupied and swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings along with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there. And the last state of that person becomes worse than the first. So it will be for this evil generation also!”
We’re all empty houses without the Holy Spirit. And while that doesn’t mean we’ll automatically become demon-possessed (you can be lost and not be full of unholy fungus), don’t you want to feel secure about it? Don’t you want, as Jesus calls the Spirit, a Companion who never leaves your side?
And Don’t tell yourself that just a little sin is fine. It does have an effect on you. You just might not realize it until it’s too late, or until you’re free and you look back at who you were before. Sin changes you in ways you aren’t always aware of. It makes you see the world differently.
This fungus in Bearded Darnel has some really interesting properties, you know. Did you know that people ate its poisonous bread on purpose? People ate its poisonous bread on purpose! Not because they could not afford better bread, although it as cheaper. Some people, knowing that it would hurt them, ate it on purpose.
You see, this is no ordinary fungus. The symptoms of drunkeness and its hallucinogenic nature were prized by some people. In pre-industrial Europe, it was used by the poor to provide an escape from reality. Darnel was used even for ritual purposes, it’s believed, by The Egyptians and the Greeks. It was known to the Greeks as “aira,” “the plant of frenzy.” It’s believed that people used the fungus that grew in darnel to worship other gods, such as Demeter, the goddess of grain and other related things. (The picture is “Demeter, enthroned and extending her hand in a benediction toward the kneeling Metaneira, who offers the triune wheat (c. 340 BC)” — on a hydria (pretty vase), I believe kept in the Antikensammlung in Berlin, Germany.)
It gets even more interesting than that, though. In 1938, a chemist was trying to find new medicines using Ergot, the fungus that lives in darnel. In his experiments, though, he accidentally created an extremely powerful new hallucinogen, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide—which you may know of as LSD. It’s creator was trying to find new medicines, but found this instead. Don’t worry, though, it was still prescribed to people anyways for almost 20 years, and even used by the military!
You wanna know one more mind-blowing fact about darnel? The fungus doesn’t just live there. It genetically reprograms the darnel to be a suitable host. Yes, you heard that right, it genetically reprograms the darnel. I had to spend a lot of time on that one, because I almost didn’t believe it myself. But, it turns out, this is a pretty common phenomenon in plants with fungal infections.
What a fitting discovery for this plant, darnel. You see, the more influenced a person becomes by the things of this world, the more it changes how they see things. With enough of this poison, they can’t see reality anymore. And it slowly but surely changes them. Good things make them angry while bad things make them happy. God looks to them like Satan, and Satan looks to them like God. The fungus can start small, taking root in the damp darkness, but the more it’s entertained, the more it will grow, until it gets out of control, and you’re not the person you thought you were, and you don’t know how to get well.
But the good news is that Jesus offers us freedom and renewal. He offers us resurrection in the age to come, but also offers us renewal today, and it’s accessible, you don’t need to bake fungus bread and beseech God with sacrifices. It’s simple, and I’ll tell you exactly how.
You wanna know onnneee more fact about wheat and darnel? I’m not changing subjects here, just hang on for a second. Wheat grows to about 4 ft max. Darnel grows to about 3ft max. But while the darnel stands up relatively straight, the wheat is bowed down in bearing its heavy fruit. Wheat can look a lot shorter than it really is when its healthy and ripe. In fact, from a spiritual point of view, that’s the one most important fact you could walk away with today:
Wheat is bowed down.
It’s not hard to start the change from darnel to wheat. In the plant world, it’s impossible. In God, it’s not impossible. You don’t have to wait get anything sorted out or fixed in order to start on your way to freedom, you just have to bow down to Jesus, offering yourself as you are, and the change will begin. It will time and effort, but you will receive divine help, you will receive the Companion Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit. All you have to do is humble yourself, and bow down to Jesus and ask for help—to recognize that Jesus loves you, that you’re not where you wanna be, and that you need His help. A good friend of mine once said:
“God loves you the way you are. But He doesn’t want you to stay that way.”
But you have to choose to diligently work towards it with His power. And in doing so, you can become clean!
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise. For you do not delight in sacrifice or I would give it. With a burnt offering you are not pleased. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed these things with reference to himself: ‘God, I give thanks to you that I am not like other people—swindlers, unrighteous people, adulterers, or even like this tax collector! I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far away, did not want even to raise his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than that one! For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I know that this was a more analytical message, but there’s a lot of spiritual truth here. So what will you choose to do with your life? Will you entrust your heart to God? Or keep trying to figure it out on your own? Kick out that fungus. Produce fruit. Don’t be darnel, don’t even be halt-darnel half-wheat. Be holy. Be whole-wheat devoted to God.
Pray: “Is any fungus in me, God? Cleanse me; I sacrifice all of myself to You.”
Much of this information came from people who actually work with darnel or who have extensive experience researching it. Here are the sources I used:
Howard Thomas, Jayne Elisabeth Archer, and Richard Marggraf Turley "Remembering Darnel, a Forgotten Plant of Literary, Religious, and Evolutionary Significance," Journal of Ethnobiology 36(1), 29-44, (1 March 2016).
Inishmaan and the Darnel Project
Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Pharmaceutical Science: Ergotism
Ergot Poisoning (MU CAFNR)
Ergotism in Animals - Toxicology - Merck Veterinary Manual (merckvetmanual.com)
Claviceps purpurea (Ergot)
Wheat's Evil Twin Has Been Intoxicating Humans For Centuries - Gastro Obscura (atlasobscura.com)
Reprogramming of the wheat transcriptome in response to infection with Claviceps purpurea, the causal agent of ergot | BMC Plant Biology | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)