I remember hearing someone say parables have only one interpretation, but a myriad applications.
I can't remember who said that; maybe it was a quote. But the idea stayed with me: there's a formal "interpretation" for each parable, which is the thing Jesus had in mind when He spoke it.
And then, separate and apart from this one-true-interpretation, there are endless "applications" we can make from it.
But let's pretend, for the purposes of this Post, there's an OTI ("one-true-interpretation") of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (also called the Parable of the Weeds).
Since "no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20), we'll begin with what the Lord said Himself about the parable's meaning; that should seal-the-deal, right?
We'll read a few verses and break for an early lunch, easy-peasy.
Ummm. We're going to find out this is NOT as clear-cut as we may think.
VIP Backstage Access
We're lucky because we get Jesus's own interpretation of the Parable of the Tares, which he gave in private to his disciples:
Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
Out of the gate, then, and we're already ahead. This wasn't Christ casting seed to the public, giving them some oblique morsel to chew on; but here we find the Lord giving straight answers to His confidantes.
They're secluded in someone's house, hanging out in the Mancave, the door closed; now it's time for the Lord to dish. Why? Because the disciples ask.
That's important: they exhibit a willingness to listen and learn. They are following the command to "ask, and ye shall receive."
He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man.
1. Sower = Son of man (keep track of these, we're going to have your neighbor check your work).
The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
Slow down! I can barely type fast enough to keep up.
2. Field = World
3. Good seed = Children of the kingdom
4. Tares = Children of the wicked one
5. Enemy = devil
6. Harvest = End of the world
7. Reapers = Angels (of God, I presume)
Well, that's it; I told you this was easy. Memorize those answers and you'll have no problem aceing the midterm.
But read on if you want to prepare for the final.
Okay, you stuck around; good, because now things are getting juicy. In Sunday School, we normally stop after No. 7. But guess what? The Lord goes on . . .
As you read the following, keep an open mind:
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
What do the angels "gather?"
Where do they find the Tares; I mean, where are the Tares gathered from?
"Out of his kingdom."
What are the Tares doing? What are they up to in the kingdom?
"Offend" and "do iniquity."
What does the fire represent? What causes the Tares to wail?
I like the poetic way the New International Version phrases it:
"The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil" (Matt. 13:41, NIV).
Ugg. You're telling me there's weeding in heaven? Haven't the angels heard of crop dusting?
JST Changes to the Parable of the Tares
The Joseph Smith Translation made several fascinating changes to the Parable of the Tares (highlighted in bold):
Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the wheat into my barn; and the tares are bound in bundles to be burned.
The harvest is the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked.
The reapers are the angels, or the messengers sent of heaven.
For in that day, before the Son of man shall come, he shall send forth his angels and messengers of heaven.
And they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them out among the wicked; and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Four Important Take-Aways from the JST
1. First, we are given a clear, definite timeframe: the reaping occurs prior to the Second Coming, "in that day" (which day is that?).
2. Second, we see that "angels" are not just holy beings from heaven, but also mortal "messengers of heaven." Looks like everyone on Team Jesus will be working together, whether quick or dead.
3. Third, the destruction of the wicked is equated with them being "cast out among the wicked." So we're not necessarily talking about physical destruction.
4. Finally, I think the most important change in the JST is to verse 29, which clarifies (and makes consistent with D&C 86) that it is the Wheat that is gathered first, NOT the tares.
In other words, the Wheat leave the field and are gathered to the "barn" while the Tares remain, never-the-wiser, hanging around in bundles, cut-off from the Lord.
So far, none of this mentions the Church at all: just the "world" and the "kingdom".
Doctrine and Covenants 86
In 1832, as Joseph Smith was translating the Bible, he received what is now D&C 86.
Let's see if D&C 86 lines-up with what we've read so far.
1. Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants, concerning the parable of the wheat and of the tares:
2 Behold, verily I say, the field was the world, and the apostles were the sowers of the seed;
NT: Field = world D&C: Field = world
NT: Sower = Son of man D&C: Sower = Original 12 Apostles
3 And after they have fallen asleep the great persecutor of the church, the apostate, the whore, even Babylon, that maketh all nations to drink of her cup, in whose hearts the enemy, even Satan, sitteth to reign—behold he soweth the tares; wherefore, the tares choke the wheat and drive the church into the wilderness.
NT: Enemy = devil D&C: Enemy = Babylon et. al.
4 But behold, in the last days, even now while the Lord is beginning to bring forth the word, and the blade is springing up and is yet tender--
5 Behold, verily I say unto you, the angels are crying unto the Lord day and night, who are ready and waiting to be sent forth to reap down the fields;
NT: Reapers = angels D&C: Reapers = angels
6 But the Lord saith unto them, pluck not up the tares while the blade is yet tender (for verily your faith is weak), lest you destroy the wheat also.
7 Therefore, let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest is fully ripe; then ye shall first gather out the wheat from among the tares, and after the gathering of the wheat, behold and lo, the tares are bound in bundles, and the field remaineth to be burned.
NT: First gathered = Tares JST: First gathered = Wheat D&C First gathered = Wheat
Before you go, the Lord has one more thing to say about this parable in D&C 101:
64. That the work of the gathering together of my saints may continue, that I may build them up unto my name upon holy places; for the time of harvest is come, and my word must needs be fulfilled.
* Time of harvest ("in that day") = Now
* Barn = Holy places
65. Therefore, I must gather together my people, according to the parable of the wheat and the tares, that the wheat may be secured in the garners to possess eternal life, and be crowned with celestial glory, when I shall come in the kingdom of my Father to reward every man according as his work shall be;
Wheat = those crowned with celestial glory
Stop the presses! Does this mean that the barn is Zion (the holy city), which is built upon a celestial law, inhabited by the Wheat, i.e., those who "possess eternal life"? Why aren't we teaching this in Church?
66. While the tares shall be bound in bundles, and their bands made strong, that they may be burned with unquenchable fire.
Notice the "bands" prevent the Tares from leaving the field. They're stuck, perhaps because they don't hear the voice of the Lord calling them to flee Babylon?