Darnel is a common weed in Palestine and indeed around the world. The seed of the darnel is easily mistaken for wheat and the two plants are indistinguishable until they have ripened. This means that they are easily confused for each other, hence the believability of the conclusion drawn in the parable that it had to have been an enemy who had sowed the darnel among the wheat.
Wheat and darnel are so alike that darnel is even known in some places as false wheat. The major difference between the two plants is that darnel is highly toxic and when consumed can result in a kind of drunken nausea which in some cases can be fatal. In fact, the Latin name for darnel is lolium temulentum; lolium is the genus and the description temulentus means drunk or intoxicated.
You can see that any farmer would take great care to plant only good seeds. And also, that farmers would burn darnel whenever it is discovered so that no seed remains to contaminate the next harvest.
We can see from this that the Parable of the Darnel is one that would have been well understood by the people at the time of Jesus. Of course, what is less clear to them would have been Jesus’ interpretation which he gives only to his disciples. He tells them that the wheat stands for the good subjects of the Kingdom of God and the darnel for the subjects of the Evil One.
Jesus knows which is which and warns us that there will be a time of judgement and that we will be dealt with according to where our loyalties lie. While we still have time, we had better make sure of our true allegiance. We need to decide which side we are on: the side of Christ or the side of the Evil One.
Father Alex McAllister SDS