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Parables Bible Study 2: The Wheat and the Tares

Title: Parables Bible Study 2: The Wheat and the Tares

Subject: The Kingdom of Heaven

Age: 13+ years


  • Matthew, 13:24-30, Parable of the wheat and the tares
  • Matthew 13:36-43, Explanation

Handout for taking notes: Bible Study Worksheet

Begin the Bible Study with a prayer. Read the passage, and then allow time for quiet reflection. Share the following notes on the parable.

Found within a chapter of parables, this particular parable is similar to the one of the Sower that precedes it. Matthew 13:34: the parable as stated in this verse now becomes Christ's sole means of communicating about the Kingdom and the Gospel to the multitudes. With this parable and those surrounding it, Jesus speaks about the mysteries of the Kingdom.

Once again parables are stories directed and about the Kingdom. This raises the question once again for us as to why Jesus decides to use the parable to communicate about the Kingdom. Some people reason (and we find evidence of this in the explanation of Jesus Himself as to His use of parables) that the use of parables is a ploy to keep those unworthy of their message from understanding. To put it another way, the parables become a way to open the Kingdom only to those truly open to Jesus' revelation. For the Church Fathers, this openness comes through simplicity and purity, only those with these qualities are truly capable of understanding their message.

Two keys in understanding parables: Simplicity and Purity. Fostering these Christian virtues then becomes for the ascetics and saints, a true endeavor, one that leads to proper interpretation and correct hermeneutics. Thus, the Christian mindset conditioned by purity and humility becomes the key to unlocking the mysteries of the Kingdom as portrayed in the Parables. Perhaps, then, Christ is hinting at the reality that the Kingdom is not understood ultimately on an intellectual level nor through intellectual means.

Additionally, Matthew 6:33 states, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." Seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness is a means of opening and entering the Kingdom. This pursuit may have the characteristics of a journey that sets us on a path towards a new reality marked by a character unlike the one conditioned by this world, one rather who is truly righteous. Such a soul would be uninterested in a mere test of entry or the passkey/pass code to some location, entitled heaven.

Continue the bible study by reading the parable, and then share the following ideas:
Unique to Matthew's Gospel is this parable of the tares, which are noxious weeds. Like the parable of the Sower, a spiritual truth is revealed using something commonplace and easy to understand, although today the action of a rival appears harsh. Such is the enemy of God, Satan. As soon as God sets about sowing His word, Satan comes to destroy His work. The particular reality depicted here is the close association of the wicked and the good. The close proximity of the two, and moreover how difficult it is to distinguish one from the other! Maybe we can see how the wicked may not even appear bad and perhaps we have even seen how the weeds, and therefore the wicked, can appear healthier than the wheat or the good.

Continue with a warning, "There will be enemies of the truth and for those who follow Jesus. And the evil will exist even alongside the good up unto the end."

Take a moment to share the farmer's odd decision. The decision not to weed, or for us the Lord's decision and inaction, seems odd. Possible reasons for this include, here we are ultimately talking about human souls. The commitment of the good is tested through this ordeal. Judgment is ultimately the Lord's. The destruction of those who do not appear to be enemies would in the end be misunderstood because they do appear to be good after all. Key to this parable is that the weeds may become wheat through transformation. The worst of sinners have become saints.

The following is a quote from St. John Chrysostom on Matthew:
"In considering possible interpretations of the tares sown among wheat, we have suggested that, since the Lord calls them ‘the children of the wicked one,' they could be the people we encounter daily who are completely materialistic pagans. They may be our neighbors or business associates who either do not believe in God or think it unimportant whether they believe in Him or not. They live without reference to Him or to His commandments, as if He did not exist or as if He were indifferent to the affairs of mankind. They have no interest in anything but their own welfare and comfort. But they can be a danger to children of the kingdom, because they are not easily distinguished from believers in the way they live and behave. By purely human standards, they are often good, honest people who may even work for the common good, contribute to charities, and obey all the laws. They may even adopt for themselves such Christian virtues as may be useful and cannot be called bad insofar as they relate to society. The danger they pose lies simply in their attractiveness as citizens and their day-to-day existence free of obligation. They seem to have the same values as Christians, and thus, their not believing in God does not have any effect on their lives. The Christian, on the other hand, knows that morality and virtue have their origin in faith in God and are not simply the product of human experience, as the humanists claim. According to some of the Church Fathers, the children of the wicked one are the heretics among Christians. While the first parable deals with the rejection of the Gospel for various reasons, the second deals with the corruption of that very Gospel among those who receive it. In both cases, that old enemy of God and consequently of man, the devil, is the author of the crime. It is he who works hard to keep men from accepting the Word in the first place, and in the second, his strategy focuses upon the corruption of the faith. (St. John Chrysostom, On Matthew, Homily 41)*"

The notion that this parable is most aptly applied to the heretics, those who distort the Church's dogma and teaching concerning Christ leads to an interesting tract of thinking. First see 2 Peter 2:1. The basis of all heresies is the distortion or reduction of the Person and Place of Jesus Christ. The interpretation that follows from equating the tares with heretics would go something like this:
a. There is great responsibility placed upon us faithful to not be caught up or confused. To stay awake so that we do not let in unaware the distorted teaching that so easily slips into the Church.
b. How careful we must farm then, first we have our own spiritual state and purity to care for and watch and then we must also work to convert or re-convert those caught in the delusions of heresy. How hard but important is this work.

Finally, we must say that judgment is God's alone, the final decision concerning each soul and the separation of the wheat and the tares is His alone to make. This description here of the final things echoes Matthew 25.

Note that the good are wheat, wheat is a crop, it produces something useful.

You may also look to the notes from Orthodox Study Bible for further explanation of this parable.

At this time, read the passage once more and again, allow time for quiet reflection. If there is time, you may have a discussion about this parable with the participants.

End the bible study with a prayer.

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas

*The Parables, Archbishop Dimitry, SVS Press, pp. 19-20.

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