Friday, November 24, 2017

Tares Among Wheat

"Parable of the Wheat and the Tares" Abraham Bloemaert. 1624. (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

One Dutch master got it all wrong. Abraham Bloemaert painted “Parable of the Wheat and the Tares,” but he apparently didn’t have access to St. Matthew’s full account.

Perhaps others explained the parable to him. Maybe Bloemaert didn’t follow the Scriptural passage far enough to read how Christ Himself explained the parable. At any rate, the artist expounded on the one point that Jesus didn't explain and ignored most everything else that Jesus did.

It could very well be that Calvinism was steering Scripture in a moralistic direction in the wake of Luther’s reform. At any rate, Bloemaert’s rendition of the parable fully exploits the fact that the good farmer’s workers were sleeping while the enemy came to sow evil seed. Never mind the fact that Jesus didn’t even address the insignificance of the detail. Laziness was just plain wrong, and of the Devil.

Of course, the artist didn’t just stop with putting sleeping workers in the foreground of the painting – he underlined the fact, drew circles around it, and highlighted it in red. The sleepers – male and female – lay naked for all the world to see. A dove cote is elevated nearby – a symbol of slothfulness, since harvesting doves in this manner didn’t necessitate the bother of raising them. A goat and peacock serve as icing on the ugly cake of laziness, alluding to self-indulgence and pride, respectively. The overall image shows what happens when, in man’s slothfulness, Satan is allowed to run rampant. But that picture is wrong.
"Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat"
Attributed to Isaac Claesz van Swanenburg. c. 1600.
(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

A different painting on the subject is attributed to Isaac Claesz van Swanenburg. “Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat” takes a more moderate approach, although the imagery still isn’t spot on. van Swanenburg’s piece lacks the heavy-handed moral preaching of Bloemaert’s. In the painting, the good farmer addresses the viewer while workers carry sheaves of wheat away and others carry sheaves of weeds to a huge fire. van Swanenburg, however, glosses over details of who exactly reaps the wheat and tares, assuming that the farmer’s workers are thus employed.

Christ’s parable is not aimed at moral living. It is aimed at comforting His own while they must live among the annoyances of heresy and evil men. In His explanation, Jesus simply states that Satan comes to sow evil men among His saints. The fact that Satan comes while the workers sleep simply points to Satan’s cunning and deception. Sleep is not the point. The sainted workers, however, are anxious to rid themselves of evil men and their heresy.

“Master... do you want us to gather [the tares]?”

This certainly seems righteously reasonable to us, and the question is echoed in another account in Jesus ministry. Jesus and His dicsiples were snubbed by a Samaritan village while they traveled toward Jerusalem.

“And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he [Jesus] turned and rebuked them.” (Luke 9: 54-55)

We may be eager to weed out rascals in the Kingdom, but we are not qualified for such a job of surgical precision. We are not reapers. That job simply isn’t ours. Rather, we should recognize heresy, avoid it, and pray ceaselessly that God’s Kingdom may come upon us. The Lord’s angels will do the harvesting at the last, and the tares, along with their bad fruit, will then be separated out from the good crop and utterly consumed.

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