In defense of tares


Here’s something I wrote the other day in response to the Parable of the Tares in Matthew 13, which might be of interest:

It explores the relation of Christianity to the agricultural practices of the day and suggests that notions of sin and heresy (and what to do about them) might have stemmed from the agrarian attitudes and policies towards weeds and other unwanted species:

Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.


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.

Would it even be possible for concepts like sin & heresy to emerge in societies not based on monocultures of grain plants, and with no shoot-on-sight policy towards any other plant competing with these crops? Do nonagricultural societies have words coming close to the meaning of ‘weed’, defined as:

  1. a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.
  1. any undesirable or troublesome plant, especially one that grows profusely where it is not wanted: The vacant lot was covered with weeds.

I’m guessing there’s an understanding, largely absent from western civilised cultures, that just because humans have no use for a plant, doesn’t make it ‘valueless’ to other creatures in the web of life.

There’s also some Sympathy for the Devil towards the end. It turns out sowing tares (thought to refer to a wheat-like plant called darnel) might have been a relatively common practice in 0th century Palestine as an escalation of neighbourly disputes or a parting gift from disgruntled slaves or tenant farm workers. There was even a Roman law prohibiting it. Anyway what interested me was the supposed innocence of the master in the parable. What had he (or God) done to ‘to earn himself such a dedicated Enemy?’

It reminds me of my half-serious, slightly silly suggestion that seed bombs might be used in clandestine operations on arable fields in order to ‘diversify the monocrop’ – not something I’ve yet attempted, for revenge or any other reason(!) That would make me The Enemy, for sure. But would it be such a bad thing to have a farmer denounce you in that way? If it interrupted or even sabotaged his operation wouldn’t that create the space for some of the nondomesticated plants & animals to start coming back in? You know, the ones whose global population has halved in the last 40 years, mainly through the direct & indirect effects of agriculture? Sounds more heroic than spiteful in those terms, but I don’t know if darnel or other resourceful arable weeds particularly need any help from wild-minded humans to do their work. The farmers have already created perfectly adequate conditions for that.

Does this analogise further into Christian morality and restrictive notions of ‘sinful’ behaviour? What seeds might The Enemy be sowing in the moral fabric (tattered though it may be) of the civilised societies? Or has the attempt to banish these behaviours and attitudes created the same perfectly adequate conditions for them to thrive and multiply?

Then there’s some identification with weeds and my usual complaint about being treated in a similar way by various people in my life engaged one way or another in ‘the careful, ongoing cultivation of the social field’. To what extent do agricultural practices and the treatment of domesticated livestock influence the disciplinary actions enacted on the young and pervading the workplace, religious circles, the political culture etc?

Interested to hear any thoughts.



Sometimes, while these threads interest me, I fell I have little to contribute. Then something comes to me days later. While staying a few nights at my mate’s mother’s house last week, she asked us if we could pull the weeds for her. My response: which ones are the weeds? All these plants she referred to as “weeds”, brush growing along the side of the house where her lawnmower wouldn’t reach, were valuable herbs and dear cousins in my eyes. Wild strawberries behind the broken air conditioner, grasses with sweet seeds big as oats, loads of bright healthy dandelions and clovers surrounded by lush green…The neighbor has a mulberry bush on the fence-line that she wants cut down too.

Who exactly do these “weeds”, these native plants growing wild together, steal nutrients and water from? The neatly-trimmed usually-foreign lawns humans try to maintain for some odd reason? Give me my neck-high prairie grass gone to full golden seed like fields of wild wheat, dandelions (free detox coffee you modern fools!) all over my yard, and wild strawberries allowed to grow as big as those mulberries! Of course it isn’t my yard though, so she pulled most of the “weeds” herself and left their bodies in a pile. I’m sure more life will spring up soon anyway.


Thanks for the story, Firekin. Have had similar experiences in the past too, whether it’s trying to persuade a client to keep the cow parsley in their woodland area or showing up at my allotment one day to find that someone has oh-so-helpfully pulled out the self-sown fat hen plants I was leaving to grow in the bean patch (they make a good potherb or spinach substitute). ‘Valueless’, ‘undesirable’ as per the definition… it all depends on your perspective, doesn’t it? And your knowledge or willingness to learn about other possible uses for these ‘tares’. Same goes for people, I think, and the certain behaviours defined in similar terms which are denied the space for expression in the dominant society. Native people and practices, for example: obviously no value in lifeways that have lasted millennia without destroying the land. They have to go. Gypsies: don’t abide by Accepted Notions of property, tax, etc. They must be made to conform or shunted along. Leftist agitators, pacifists, anarchists: they threaten the status quo so must be marginalised, mocked, abused, imprisoned, executed. And so forth…

Isn’t it always the way? Those with the inspiration to try things differently do not get the same opportunities as those who have toed the line (and been rewarded for it) for their whole lives. Conservation rewilders have to fight the farmers tooth and nail for even the most marginal land, while the latter continue to wreck the majority of the land they have grabbed in the name of ‘tradition’. Grrr…

But like you say, it will all spring back up someday. Sooner rather than later IMHO.



Ah yes, I agree, sooner than later. The times they are a-changin’. Of course I do try to avoid mentioning such changing of the times; as you seem to point out, it’s too easy to be labeled a radical survivalist eco-terrorist security threat nowadays. It really is nice being on a forum where people don’t think I’m just that. :slight_smile: