Natural Farming and the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30;36-43)

That’s right, the reason you started reading this blog in the first place is back. The last post was April 26 of this year and before that January 10. For a while, I was disciplined in doing it once or twice a week. I’d like to get back to that.

Before diving into today’s passage I want to take a brief moment to point out that this is not an esoteric exercise in obscurity. My purpose in examining Food in the Bible is, like Ellen Davis, because an agrarian reading of the Bible is essential to fully understand the context of the text. In a culture so disconnected from the land and our food, we skim over those antiquated passages that have to do with agriculture. In so doing we have cut ourselves off from some of the most powerful elements of the biblical narrative and consequently some answers to many problems that plague modern civilization, society and globalization.

Matthew 13:24-43 This passage is a sandwich with the parable of the weeds (24-30) and the following explanation (36-43) as the bread and the parable of the mustard seed and yeast (31-35) the meat (or peanut butter for you vegetarians). I’d like to take them separately and then reflect on what it means that they’re sandwiched together here.

3480587807_7b8a4633b1.jpgThe Parable of the Weeds

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 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?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 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.” ’

In terms of agriculture the first thing I notice is that farmers have been dealing with the problem of weeds forever, surely since the dawn of agriculture. It’s important, and relevant to the parable, to remember that a “weed” is simply a plant growing where you don’t want it to grow. People intentionally growing food crops on a plot of land view other plants in that plot as competitors. Plants that are aggressive (like bermuda grass) can outcompete other crops and ultimately kill the food you’re trying to grow.

One of the biggest difficulties with organic and no-till agriculture is how to deal with weeds. Industrial agriculture simply invented Round-up Ready seeds that could be sprayed with a broad spectrum herbicide and not die. So, you kill everything except the plant you want to grow. That method seems to have a number of problems with it (i.e. reliance on chemicals, loss of biodiversity, affect on the environment and concerns about GMO crops).

So, how do you deal with weeds? While it’s tempting to get into tillage practices and weed management, for the purpose of this post the method is usually to get rid of the weeds. However, many weeds are edible and there are other methods for growing food than the industrial monoculture we’ve come to know and love.

Fukuoka-closeup.jpgJesus suggestion to the farmer in the parable sounds a lot like Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution. For those not familiar with his agricultural philosophy the two part interview with Larry Korn, a student of Fukuoka, on the Agroinnovations podcast is a great introduction. Fukuoka’s “natural farming” method is very similar and closely related to permaculture. Basically Fukuoma’s method was to observe the way nature worked without intervention. He would scatter seeds randomly in a field and then observe what happened. He would select the seeds of the plants that did well and try to understand why that particular plant did better. Was it something about the soil or topography, etc.? By mimicking and learning from nature Fukuoka was able to eventually get greater yields than his Japanese counterparts with a lot less work. If the workers in the parable let the weeds and their crop grow together their labor is greatly reduced as well.

In verses 36-43 Jesus gives an explanation of his parable in spiritual terms. This is a parable about the judgment at the “end of the age” and why the wicked are allowed to live along with the righteous. The meaning and intention is to use an agricultural metaphor to point to a spiritual reality. Often this is a way of sweeping away the parable itself and only focusing on the spiritual interpretation. Jesus chose parables and parabolic actions with purpose and intent. Why should we think that the spiritual application of the parable is separate from its physical, agricultural counterpart? Isn’t the nature of a parable in some way to join these two things?

Next… The Parable of the Mustard Seed and Yeast

Photo of car overgrown by weeds from Flickr user cavanimages. Photo of Fukuoka from permaculture.com

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