What is the parable of the weeds?
The parable of the weeds was spoken by Jesus Christ and is recorded in Matthew 13:24-30. Whatever be meant by zizania word, found only here in the Greek Scripture, is originally semite (Arabic zuwan ). In the Vulgate it is retained and in popular French Wyclif renders it "darnel or cockle", and curiously enough the name of his followers, the Lollards, has been derived from a Latin equivalent, "lolium." In the Reims New Testament we have "cockle", for which compare Job, xxxi, 40: "Let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley."
It is pretty well determined that the plant in question is "lolium temulentum," or bearded darnel; and the mischievous practice of "oversowing" has been detected among Easterns, if not elsewhere. The late weeding of the fields is in "substantial agreement with Oriental custom", at a time when good and evil plants can be fully distinguished.
Christ calls Himself the "Son of Man"; He is the sower. good men are the seed; the field is indifferently the Church or the world, i.e., the visible Kingdom in which all kinds are mingled, to be sorted out in the day of His coming. He explains and fits in detail the lesson to the incidents (Matthew 13:36-43), with an adaptation so clear to the primitive age of Christianity that Loisy, Julicher, and other modern critics, refuse to consider the parable authentic.
24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
30 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.
They suppose it to be drawn out of some brief comparison in the original lost "source" of Mark. These random guessings have no scientific value. Historically, the moral which recommends sufferance of disorders among Christians when a greater evil would follow on trying to put them down, has been enforced by the Church authorities against Novatus, and its theory developed in St. Augustine's long disputes with those hard African Puritans, the Donatists.
St. Augustine, recognizing in Our Lord's words as in the spiritual life a principle of growth which demands patience, by means of it reconciles the imperfect militant state of His disciples now with St. Paul's vision of a "glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle" (Ephesians 5:27). Such is the large Catholic philosophy, illustrated by the Roman Church from early times, despite men like Tertullian; from the medieval condemnation of the Cathari; and from the later resistance to John Calvin, who would have brought in a kind of Stoic republic or "Kingdom of the Saints", with its inevitable consequences, hypocrisy and selfrighteous pharisaism.
Yet Calvin, who separated from the Catholic communion on this and the like motives, calls it a dangerous temptation to suppose that "there is no Church wherever perfect purity is not apparent." (Cf. St. Augustine, "In Psalm. 99"; "Contra Crescon.", III, xxxiv; St. Jerome, "Adv. Lucifer" and Tertullian in his orthodox period, "Apol.", xli "God does not hasten that sifting out, which is a condition of judgment, until the world's end.")
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).