A Mystical Interpretation of Jesus’ Parable of the Tares

This parable may have a better interpretation viewed through the lens of mysticism than the traditional “us versus them” approach.

Jesus’ Parable of the Tares appears in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 13:

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

-Matthew 13:24-30, NRSV

Many traditional Christians often think that this parable is referring to a difference between believers and disbelievers, that those who follow their tradition are the wheat, while those who are outside the tradition are the tares. Eventually the wheat (believers) will be separated from the tares (non-believers), or the tares from the wheat, and the non-believers will all be destroyed.

We can find this same approach, for example, in this recent comment by the LDS-Mormon president Russell M. Nelson:

The time is coming when those who do not obey the Lord will be separated from those who do.

-Russell M. Nelson, “The Future of the Church: Preparing the World for the Savior’s Second Coming,” April 2020

Nelson offered as support for this view a reference to Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the Parable of the Tares (D&C 86:1-7). In that interpretation it seems the same sense of separation appears, between what he calls the “church” and “Satan/Babylon,” those gathered into the “church” being the wheat, while the rest are the tares to be eventually burned.

These messages of separation do not seem to belong to an authentic and deep spirituality, which has a message of union, not separation. As I said on Facebook,

(If you enjoy this writing and content, please consider giving a Gift as a token of your appreciation and support. I am deeply grateful to you. -Bryce)

Traditional organized religion typically has a strong message of separation, us versus them, exclusion, tribalism, and superiority. Genuine spirituality, on the other hand, has a message of infinite union, absolute oneness, unconditional love, and incomprehensible at-one-ment with all beings and all things, everywhere and everywhen.

So what is going on in this parable? Why the message of separation? In this article I want to offer a different interpretation from a mystical point of view of what this parable might mean that offers not a message of separation, but of ultimate union. It’s certainly not the only interpretation, but I think it might help get at what the parable is pointing to better than has traditionally been offered.

Kingdom of Heaven

When Jesus talks about the “kingdom of heaven,” I don’t think he is talking about a literal place in the skies somewhere, a distant place in the universe, a monarchy located somewhere, I think he is referring to a state of mind, of being, of perception, of nondual unitive consciousness. It is a “kingdom,” because it is experientially and ontologically exalted, or the highest nature of our being, the sovereign who reigns in our soul. It is in “heaven,” because we reach it in a higher state of consciousness apart from the traditional mundane world. It is a way of perceiving, of being in the world, and especially about identity, of the nature of what it means to be human/divine.

Jesus uses a number of parables to try to explain and describe what this state of being is “like.” They are parables, and not to be taken literally. They are symbolic metaphors only, pointing to that state of being. Good interpretations of these metaphors matters a lot, for a low quality interpretation might lead us to believe inaccurate or unhelpful things about this way of being and how to reach it. And interpretations seem to have a shelf-life; they may be good for a time, until they need reinterpretation to remain relevant and meaningful to us in our present context and culture.

Someone, Seed, Field

The “someone” who sowed good seed in the field I think is referring to God or the Ultimate Reality. It “plants” human beings in the world, it births them into the world. It is Nature which produces beings like us, evolves beings like us, in the “field” of the Earth, from out of this ground, this stardust. We are the seed. All of us. We are “Adam,” the Hebrew adamah meaning “ground” or “earth.” We are also “Eve,” the Hebrew ḥāyâ, meaning “to live.” We are the life that rises up from this ground.

It is important to note that Jesus says that these are “good” seeds. This I think is pointing to the idea of original blessing, or original goodness. Human beings and all else in Nature I think are originally good, innocent, blessed, divine. We are all originally that “Adam and Eve” in the Garden of the world, without blame, without fault.

Asleep, Enemy, Weeds

But in the Fall, those originally good seeds “fall asleep.” Sleep is a good analogy of the way that consciousness falls into a kind of waking dream behind the veil of the dualistic mind and identification with the separate egoic self, the self most of us think we are. We become unconscious of who we really are in our depths.

In the Fall, the dualistic mind emerges in consciousness, which begins to separate and divide all things into subject and object, differences, compartmentalization, differentiation, contention, tribalism, exclusion, superiority, etc. It is pride, it is ego, it is vanity, it is the person who thinks they are separate and cut off from everyone and everything else, an isolated independent self.

This is the beginning of the “enemy,” Satan, the devil. It is that which pushes things apart. This pushing apart, this division, this separation, this dualism, is the devil of the dualistic subjective mind and ego identity. The weeds that are sowed is this duality, this separateness, this Fall of consciousness into the separate self identity.

So as we emerge from our childhood, and begin to grow into adolescence and adulthood and become increasingly self-aware, the goodness that is our original essential innocent nature grows up together with the emergence of the dualistic mind, the egoic self identity. We are of a dual-nature, and both grow up together.

Yes, together with our original goodness, our divine identity, we have an evil nature, the devil, the “natural man” which is an “enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). It’s not something or someone “out there,” but within our own self, and is our own self, what is sometimes called the “false self.”

Gather the Weeds?

So if the dualistic mind, the egoic self, is the enemy, perhaps we should just try to root it out of us, try to kill it off. But this doesn’t work. The ego cannot get rid of the ego. Trying to do so would be suicide. It would also kill off the goodness that is the true Self, the original divine goodness in us. The tares and wheat would be uprooted together. A lot of frustration and suffering is experienced in spiritual life trying to subdue, restrain, repress, punish, regulate, train, constrain, humiliate, and/or kill the ego. But it’s ironically just the ego doing this to itself, and is often futile asceticism.

The ego cannot transcend the ego. The self that we think we are cannot transcend itself. It is impossible. This is a kind of paradox that is hard to understand, and many spiritual disciplines unfortunately go in this direction of mortifying the ego to seek transcendence. But it can destroy a life, and that essential Life is what we originally are. We must allow life to continue, until conditions allow for true transcendence. Richard Rohr talks about this establishment of the “container” of life, before it can be emptied of self. The self cannot be emptied until there is a container.

Growing Together, Harvest

Our dual-nature grows together, until it has reached a point of natural ripeness, a break point, of harvest. We get to a point when the cognitive dissonance between our dual natures cannot be sustained, the dualism is too much, we are broken, divided, in grief, in confusion, utterly lost, separated from our essence and true reality to such a great degree that it is unbearable. We cannot sustain it. Then we pass through great suffering and/or great love, a dark night of the soul, and this is a reaping process, a purification process, a cleansing of the mind.

We surrender ourselves, and in doing so we surrender the ego-self. We finally let go of the self that we thought we were. The self-identity falls away from consciousness and is “burned” up and dies in the bright fire-Light and Love of God, which is our own original goodness, our original blessing, our original true Self, our true essential nature in the cosmos. Our true nature breaks through the egoic veil, and shines above the brightness of the sun.

At the same time as the false ego-self identity falls away from consciousness and is burned up in the Truth of Reality, our true Self is realized as one with every other being out there. The true Self is One, not a multiplicity. Thus it is gathered together as wheat in a single barn, God’s barn. This gathering together as One, as a nondual Self, as a Singularity, is also the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven, as discussed earlier. All beings belong to this singular “church” of beings, at-one in the whole, in the One, as manifestations of the One. This infinite Oneness is also known as Love.

Conclusion

So this has several significant differences with the traditional interpretation of this parable. We are not meant to look for tares “out there” to burn. We are not establishing ingroups and outgroups. We are not trying to separate ourselves from all “others” who are inferior to us. God is not dividing us humans into those who are “chosen” or “believers” and those who are not. There is no “chosen people” who will be saved, and the rest destroyed. Our enemies won’t be burned as stubble. These are ways the ego itself has corrupted this parable, transforming and corrupting it for its own selfish ends.

Rather, the conflict is within our own self. It is between our lower self and higher self. It is between our original essential nature, and the separate self we think we are. It is between our divine self and our egoic human self. It is between the “natural man” and our original divine goodness and innocence, the Saint within (Mosiah 3:19). It is an internal struggle. We are at war with our own selves. As David O. McKay once said:

The greatest battle of life is fought within the silent chambers of your own soul.

-David O. McKay

This is the internal struggle that Jacob had with the “angel.” This is the transcendence that we are looking for. This is the dualism we are trying to overcome. This is the realization of who we really are, and “knowing thyself.” We are trying to realize our true Self, our true Divine being, our true nature in Nature, our essential Being which we always have been and always will be. The wheat and tares are in our own self. We are both! They are not “out there” somewhere. The tares are our own dualistic subjective relative temporal imperfect fallen independent identity apart from the rest of reality/nature/cosmos. The wheat is our true Being hidden underneath all of that, veiled from its own Self.

Some day, whether during life or at the end of life, the harvest will come, the tares of our false self will be burned up in the Light of God, and we will recognize our true Self, One with all beings, and this is the Kingdom of Heaven.

What are your thoughts about this parable? Please share your ideas about this interpretation and other interpretations.


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