Separating the Wheat from the Tares

Jeff SpectorMormon 31 Comments

In the parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43), the servant asked the master if the tares should be uprooted and removed. But the Master says, no, because too much wheat will get lost in the process. But, during the harvest, the tares will be gathered first and destroyed.

In D&C 86: 1- 7, the Lord gives the interpretation of that parable. He states that in the last days, the separation of the Wheat from the Tares will occur.

It appears to indicate that this sifting occurs during the judgment period.

But with more than 2/3’s of the Church inactive, and many people leaving the Church altogether, is the Wheat being separated from the Tares now?

Comments 31

  1. I guess this would depend upon how you define wheat and tares. Wheat seems to be defined (here) as temple recommend holding LDS members of the Church. I wonder then how different the current patterns are from the general patterns that have followed the Church from the beginning. It seems that the active membership has retained a core group while a secondary group rotate in and out of activity/worthiness.

    Moreover, there is a sense that the tares are forcibly removed because they will eventually do damage to the remaining wheat. Perhaps this is a caution from the Lord not the forcible remove (excommunicate) tares (people who are hypocrites – not what they seem) before the Judgment.

  2. In a perfectly free society, the wheat and tares separate themselves. Thus, as our society becomes freer, the separating process advances.

    And I’m not just talking about political freedoms here, although those are important. (How could you identify the wheat in Saudi Arabia, where we can’t even proselyte?) The internet, for example, grants me greater freedom to learn about whatever I want than does the public library, which, in turn, provides greater freedom than does attending school with a mandated curriculum, etc. How I use that knowledge identifies me as wheat or tare in ways that my ignorance could not.

  3. Rico,

    “Wheat seems to be defined (here) as temple recommend holding LDS members of the Church” Or true disciples of Christ as defined by the Church. Holding a TR doesn’t always give you that.

    I would agree with your premise. People do change and some return to the fold. I remember years ago when I was an executive secretary, we thought about send a form letter to the DNCs and asking them if they wanted their names removed. The Bishop ran it by the SP because we had one difficult person who wanted absolutely nothing to do with the Church and every once in a while someone would accidentally contact her. So the bishop and I went to see her. After she was done reaming us out, we asked her of we sent her a letter to take her name off, would she like to sign it. Of course, she said yes. So we did and she did.

    When the letter reached the SP desk, he wondered what we were doing. The Bishop explained it and he was OK. Just said not to make it a habit.

    That’s kind of how I look at it at this point. Either people self-select themselves by leaving the Church or all others will face the judgment, I guess.

  4. Rico, “there is a sense that the tares are forcibly removed because they will eventually do damage to the remaining wheat”.

    I didn’t get that — I actually got the opposite, that removing the tares forcibly would damage the wheat. Whether you think the harvest is a process or an event may affect your thinking on this. In my mind, the forcible separation happens at the end, not to protect the wheat, but because at harvest, the tares simply have no value.

  5. It is real easy to separate the wheat from the tares in a modern processing facility and have nothing but pure wheat.
    The difficult part is keeping the wheat from leaving with the tares. Any mill that didn’t concern itself with minimizing wheat loss would soon go out of business.

  6. I assume there are several levels to the process of separating the wheat from the tares—a process, as well as event(s).

    I’m just grateful for the Lord’s mercy. I was lost and He found me, and for over forty years He has gently lead(Matt 8:21-22)me to greater and greater understanding and experience with things of the Spirit.

    I think He will accept of our repentance until we utterly, and completely reject Him (Mosiah 16:12).

    Based on my experience, each of us (the wheat) leaves a lot on the table. When it is all said and done, I expect we will look back and realize how much we could have had of the Holy Ghost, gifts of the Spirit–compared to what we received.

  7. I am quite certain, that somewhere in there, the wheat and the tares are being shifted; or perhaps they are starting to look a lot like themselves.

    Church of the Firstborn != LDS Church — even the TR holders. There’s wheat outside and tares inside.

    PS. For those w/o computer literacy: != is a program code way of saying “is not equal to”

  8. Another question might be: assuming that 2/3rd’s number is correct, which portion is the wheat and which is the tare? The 1/3rd or the 2/3rd’s? 🙂

  9. RE #8 It’s higher than 50% in Utah county but in south and central america closer to 25% or less. Average is likely 33% as mentioned. That’s why Pres. Hinckley was so serious about retention. Ted Lyons’ talk on Mormon Stories mentioned the need in Chile to reduce the number of stakes from about 120 to 80 because of so many inactives. There are all sorts of reasons from faithful people that got burned out to those that were never converted to just names from bogus baptisms.

    I always thought of the tares as those who had remained with the group but were not faithful and at judgement would be separated out. For those who’ve stopped participating, they’ve taken care of the task themselves.

  10. I love this parable because what it says to me is that we humans are lousy at discerning the wheat from the tares, but “the Lord looketh on the heart.” I would guess that in reality the wheat/tare percentage among the active and inactive and non-members is all pretty close. Active Mormons don’t corner the market on good intentions. There are many Mormons who are whole wheat, and some that just have some caramel food coloring to make their refined flour white bread appear more wheaty. Likewise, it’s easy to cast aspersions on those who’ve left the church or who never joined, but we know that it’s not how the Lord sees people or how they really are. Those are really just judgments that reinforce our decision to be in the group.

  11. Sorry to comment twice in a row, but the other thing about the parable is that it says not to try to root up the tares early in the season because the jury’s still out – they look too much alike. But when the wheat is ripe and has “born fruit” it’s easier to tell. By their fruits ye shall know them.

  12. #11, We are not supposed to do the separating, but I wonder if some are self-selecting, so to speak.

    12 &13:

    “but the other thing about the parable is that it says not to try to root up the tares early in the season because the jury’s still out – they look too much alike.” I thought it was because the Lord didn’t want to distribute the good fruit to get rid of the bad. That their day would some. I would agree that we cannot tell each other apart, but then again, it is not our job to.

  13. It’s interesting that Jesus says to not pull the tares early as doing that could damage the wheat before it’s mature. I guess that could mean that premature judgement by someone that shouldn’t be judging might have more of an effect that would be intended. You don’t want to put words in His mouth but it seems that parables are like that.

  14. The other thing is that in parallel texts, it talks about how the angels cry night and day to be allowed to go down and reap, suggesting that God is a great deal more patient than those around him.

  15. Interesting comments. I always thought that the parable was talking about the wheat field as the whole world, and that the parable was a warning about the consequences of using the powers of good to crush evil prematurely. (Sort of a Lucifer plan-lite.

  16. I had a different interpretation of the wheat/tare distinction than most. The tares represent hypocrites, not necessarily those who leave or who are inactive.

    The issue is that the wheat and tares appear similar to each other, until a crucial point when the ears appear: true wheat will have ears that droop downward due to the weight, while darnel/false wheat will have ears that stand up straight (and then you can tell the difference). There are a few other differences, but that seemed to stick out to me.

    So, I infer from the similarity between the wheat and tares until maturity that we should seek to preserve such similarity in any analogy. Active vs. inactive doesn’t seem to be all that similar. However, active vs. hypocritically active does seem to fit.

    The question then becomes: who is active and who is hypocritically active? I could see people argue two ways. Staunch orthodox TBMs might say that NOMs who attend for family, culture, etc., are being tares. On the other hand, maybe orthodoxy to rigid precepts is missing the mark in the first place, so it is the spirit of community that is more important? (And doesn’t this mesh with Jesus’s message of rebuke for those who were so rigid to the letter of the law?)

  17. andrew, your explanation of tares reminds me of nephi talking about the wicked and their stiffneckedness (also those in the great and spacious building.) the humble keep their heads down.

  18. I look at this parable from a much broader perspective than the 0.1% of the world’s population who are active LDS.

    I look at it as the whole world. The evil tares are the dictators and the murderers and the pedophiles and such. They are people committing atrocities in Africa. They are people taking advantage of their fellowman. I could certainly see an army of angels wanting to come down and take out Hitler when he was on a rampage.

    But there is much good in the world. Good hearts existed in concentration camps. And God knew that the was an unavoidable result of the plan presented in the Great Council. Patience, He says. It will all someday be fine. And for those “wheat” who are crowded out or destroyed by a “tare”, I’ll take them back to my bosom as well. And there is also a bit of wheat in everyone. How about the scared soldier in Hitler’s army whose family will be killed if he doesn’t go along? How about the scared US soldier in Iraq who doesn’t want to drop that bomb or pull the trigger?

    He is a loving God. He cares about so much more than the 0.05% of us who might have a temple recommend.

  19. #20: “How about the scared US soldier in Iraq who doesn’t want to drop that bomb or pull the trigger?”

    If he doesn’t want to drop a bomb on somebody who’s sending women out to suicide-bomb parades of pilgrims, that’s not a function of too much wheat in his system.

  20. #20, Mike S, I wonder if Hitler even got to a “tare?”

    I find the interpretations fascinating and very honest. Just who is a wheat and who is a tare is a good question.

    #18, Andrew S One point I would make is that in this world, no matter how good we try to be, we are in some ways hypocrites because of our imperfections. So I would argue against the “so-called active hypocrite because it would include all who consider themselves active.

  21. re 22:

    Jeff, Actually, if we are all hypocrites, that’s even better for my point. It points out the delicate situation that the field is in (and why the householder cautions the servants not to try to uproot the tares at risk of uprooting wheat as well.)

  22. The parable of the wheat and the tares is very easily understood. The Wheat are the “sons of God” while the Tares are the “sons of the devil”. What is interesting about the parable is that it is not speaking of just the church, it is speaking of the entire earth and every single inhabitant. The timing of the separating of the wheat and the tares is important. It begins happening in our day but then continues throughout the millennium. What must be understood about the parable is that the “garners” spoken of in the parable is the place where the “saved” (the wheat; sons of God) have their names recorded. This represents the “temples” that dot the world- they are the garners. Temple work (the separation) will continue until the end of the millennium when all of the wheat will have been gathered safely into the garner. Then the fire will consume the wicked into the second death consuming the tares.

  23. You know, I just have to giggle at this thread just a little bit. To the billions of Christians all over the world, we as in Mormons and groups like Jehovah Witnesses, Scientologists, and Seventh Day Adventists are the proverbial “tares” in the great harvest. To them, the most believing to the least of those fringe religions are going to be eventually removed from the crop.

    Mormonism is much too small of a religion to assume it is sprinkling the seeds and nurturing the “wheat” waiting for the final harvest before God comes and burns the “tares”. Therefore, it would seem absurd to suppose that the wheat and tares parable applies to how believing certain Mormons are as compared to their non-believing brothers in the field of world religions. (Dr. Seuss and the Sneetches come to mind…)

    As for judging people based on their works, I like this saying as I think it’s very true. “There is SO much bad in the best of us and SO much good in the worst of us, how would you dare judge who is righteous and who is evil?”

  24. Doug G.
    “Mormonism is much too small of a religion to assume it is sprinkling the seeds and nurturing the “wheat” waiting for the final harvest before God comes and burns the “tares”. ”

    I suppose that is what Noah thought in the beginning.

  25. Yes.  As Isaiah says of the end of times…”The widowed ( Those who are driven out or wander from the church ) will out number the espoused”. ( Active self righteous members who think those out of the church are the Tares & they fail to go out & seek the Widowed ).

  26. I supose it’s just a matter of perspective…The pespecive of self rightoeus members, or that of the scriptures which paints a little different picture of things to come.

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