20080316-agri-wheat-winnowing Nolls

the meaning of the parable

Last week I posted this parable.

The question that remains is, “so what does the parable mean?”

Besides the obvious, you assigning meaning as it fits your experience and context, here’s what I have to add:

Up to the very end of its lifecycle, grain and chaff are one and the same thing. The wheat is the inside and the chaff is the outside. In order to separate the useful from the useless, a winnower has to give the grain time to dry, separating the wheat from its sheath, scoop the grain up and toss it high into the air. The wind that blows through the threshing floor, the place chosen to toss wheat because of the wind, blows the dry chaff from the grain into an area where it can be collected. The grain, however, falls back down to the ground where it will be gathered for use.

In Matthew 3, John the Baptist introduces Jesus as the winnower and draws the comparison between the people and the wheat.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12

So many times, I’ve read this as a statement of judgment, like Jesus was some cosmic boogie man separating the bad people from the good people; like a predestination assembly line. But that’s not what’s going on here. This isn’t the sheep and goats (MT 25:31-46), this is a prophetic statement about the way that Jesus is going to transform people who believe in him. This is a commentary about a singular we.

It’s not unheard of for humanity to conform to an agricultural metaphor in Scripture. Look at how Paul describes us in 1 Corinthians:

“For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building [3:9].” God’s field will be harvested and Jesus will have a heavy hand in the work. But this transformative winnowing process is character shaping. This is what Paul refers to saying, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! [2 Cor 5:17]”

This parable begins with the understanding that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The divine intent of being is to join our lives to mission of Christ on the earth. So, the grain has a choice. For instance:

The moldy grain grew in the field (Ps 24:1), but didn’t know about the field or the farmer, and in turn didn’t want anymore than to stay put never knowing anything beyond the limits of its experience.

The high flying grain knew about the farmer and could see the winnower, but wanted to live life free from the farmer, afraid of the hand of the winnower. This grain was impulsive and lacked wisdom.

The burrowing grain went so far and no more. It bought into the program, but when the time came for transformation, to be gathered by the fork of the winnower, it laid low and thought no one would notice.

The grain that went all the way to the gathering was transformed into something useful. It fulfilled its purpose this side of the reaping and harvesting. Despite the discomfort of change, the grain gave itself over to the winnower and bread maker.

This grain, too, got to the point of transformation, but disagreed on the end result. In the spirit of the first rebellion, this one chose to redefine its being and purpose on its own. It ended up in the pile that could not be used.

To be in the hands of Jesus is to be transformed. It’s not comfortable. It’s not entirely what we have in mind for ourselves, in some cases, but (to borrows a sentiment from Mrs. Beaver) it is good.