Darnel is a common weed in Palestine and indeed around the world. The seed of the darnel is easily mistaken for wheat and the two plants are indistinguishable until they have ripened and the ear has developed. This means that they are easily confused for each other, hence the believability of the conclusion drawn in the parable that it had to have been an enemy who had sown the darnel among the wheat.
Wheat and darnel are so alike that darnel is even known in some places as false-wheat. The major difference between the two plants is that darnel is highly toxic and when consumed can result in a kind of drunken nausea which in some cases can be fatal. In fact, the Latin name for darnel is lolium temulentum; lolium is the genus which is sometimes also called ryegrass and the description temulentus means drunk or intoxicated.
You can see that any farmer would take great care to plant only good seeds. And also, that farmers would burn darnel whenever it is discovered so that no seed remains to contaminate the next harvest.
We can see from this that the Parable of the Darnel is one that would have been well understood by the people at the time of Jesus. There is however one problem and that is the decision of the landowner not to uproot the darnel straight away as soon as it was discovered. This is not something that a truly wise farmer would have done, he would realise that the darnel was likely to choke the wheat and that it ought to be dug up straight away.
However, since this is a parable, we appreciate that there is likely to be a divergence from the ordinary way of thinking. Here the true meaning of the parable rises to the surface and we come to the realisation that the landowner represents God the Father and the harvest is the Last Day, the Day of Judgement. We appreciate that God in his wisdom has decided to leave his final judgement till the end of time and that this is the reason the landowner does not get his men to go through the crop to root out the weeds in advance of the final harvest.
We human beings are, of course, represented by the crop and we find ourselves to be of two types represented by the good wheat and the bad darnel. Outwardly they are indistinguishable until they have arrived at an advanced stage of development. The enemy who has planted the darnel is, naturally enough, the devil and the workers who are employed to harvest the crop are, of course, the angels.
This parable is a good one. Its hidden meaning is easily understood and it stands as a warning to everyone to be sure that they follow the laws of God and that they do everything they can to avoid the wiles of the Devil.
Jesus is warning us that there will be a time of judgement and that on that day we will be dealt with according to where our true loyalties lie. While we still have time, we had better make sure of our allegiance. We need to decide which side we are on: the side of Christ or the side of the Evil One.
There are two other parables in the extract presented to us today; one is about the mustard seed which grows into the biggest shrub of all and the other is about the woman adding yeast to her flour while making the dough.
We can see how these two parables instruct us about the action of God’s Word in the world. Jesus tells us how the tiniest seed can grow into a huge plant and how a very small measure of yeast makes an enormous difference to the dough to which it is added.
Jesus wants us to understand that the Word of God is an agent of real change in the world. It may appear to outsiders to be insignificant, but it actually has a huge impact on the world. Both of the images presented in these two parables tell us how something very tiny can, in its interaction with other things, prove to be completely transformative and the agent of tremendous growth.
If we are to become God’s collaborators in the spread of his message then we are being told that we had better believe in the efficacy of the Word as an agent of change in the world.
And more than this, because we also ought to let the Word begin its work within our own hearts. We need to realise that the change that the Word of God can bring about had better start with us for if others do not see our lives having become transformed then they will not be likely to take it very seriously.
Many people view Catholics as traditional and somewhat conservative. They think that we stick to tradition and avoid adaptation and change. They view Catholics as essentially reactionary and unable to show openness or flexibility. In this they make a serious misjudgement. They have not read these two parables and they do not understand that change is at the heart of everything we do.
It is true that there is a strong desire among Catholics to cling to tradition but it does not apply to all traditions only some. The traditions that we hold firmly to are essentially the teaching of Christ. Actually, Catholics and indeed any Christians, are wholly open to change. Change is an essential part of our DNA, so to speak.
We are all about conversion which means change. But we are not open to just any kind of change. The change we are open to is that of greater conformity with the teaching presented in the Gospels. We are orientated to the radical transformation of our lives so that we become ever more conformed to the will of God.
We are totally open to change but not to change for its own sake, or for the following of fashion, or change which takes us away from the values of the Kingdom. We are in favour of change which is truly wholesome and brings us gradually to our true fulfilment as human beings. We are in favour of the kind of change which enables us to reach our true destiny.
This is why the symbols of the mustard seed and the yeast are so good. Each are constantly changing and growing in a positive direction, if in a hidden way. We Catholics are not then concerned with holding to traditions for their own sake but we are very devoted to those traditions which are rooted in the Gospel and which are orientated to enabling mankind to achieve its true purpose.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket