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. (Matthew 13:30)
Many, many years ago, when I was between the ages of 10 and 16, my family used to “chop cotton” in the Texas Panhandle. At that time, herbicides were unheard of, and the only way for farmers to rid their fields of invading weeds was to employ temporary workers to walk the long rows of cotton (or sorghum) with hoes to chop the weeds. Several farmers hired “bazeros” that came from Mexico on temporary work visas. A Quonset hut barracks next to our home in Cotton Center, Texas housed around 200 bazeros from planting season to harvest. Some of the farmers could afford to hire large crews of brazeros that could clean their fields in a day or two. Others had to rely on smaller crews, like us, to walk the fields. It took us a little longer, and by the time we had cleaned out a large field, it was time to start all over.
Weed control is important to the health of the cotton plant, especially in its younger stages. Weeds grow rapidly and they rob the young cotton plants of needed nutrition. Additionally, weeds can overshadow the young plants and block the sunlight that they need for photosynthesis. As the cotton plant matures, they are better able to hold their own against the weeds, and in fact, beat the weeds at their own game.
Chopping cotton was not fun work! We started at sunrise in the cool of the morning when the temperature was only 95° or so, and we worked a good 12-hour day. At $1.25 an hour, we were making a killing! By noon, the temperature approached 100°, and by midafternoon, it was well beyond that. I remember trudging through the long cotton rows – some of them a mile long – and the hot soil would fill our shoes. We stopped often to dump a load of dirt back onto the field where it belonged. Plenty of water and Mom’s refried bean tacos kept us going all day! Perhaps today, such work for a 10-year old boy might be considered a form of child abuse, but back then, we worked together as a family for a common goal. We were united. Yes, it was miserable work, but the family bonds drew us closer together. At the end of the season, the money we earned on the last job went to buy school clothes for the next year. I remember rolling up the cuffs of my jeans at the beginning of the school year, and by the start of the spring semester, they were an inch above my ankles.
One cotton field I will never forget brought dread to our souls as we drove up on it. As we stared at the sight, we urged Dad to take us back home. By the looks of it, it appeared that the farmer had planted weeds rather cotton. At the time, I was a little above five-foot tall, and the rows of weeds towered at least a foot above me. The trunks of the “quelite” (“keli weeds”) were two to three inches in diameter at the base requiring four or five good chops with a sharp hoe to take them down. The rows on this field were one mile long with a solid wall of quelite from one end to the other. The cotton sprouts struggled to survive in this forest of weeds, and we had to be careful not to damage the cotton seedlings while felling the giant quelite.
Less than three hours into our day we stopped to sharpen our hoes. Experience taught us to carry a file in our back pocket for these occasions. As we had walked our rows, our focus remained on the ground taking careful aim at the weeds while avoiding the tender cotton plants. Now as we took a strategic respite and looked behind us, we could see that our advance was minimal. The end of the row ahead still stretched a mile away. By lunchtime, we were almost halfway down our rows. We ate our warm bean tacos on the ground in the shade of the tall keli weeds. By the end of the day, we finished one row. The farmer came and paid us our wages and told us not to bother coming back. The field was too far-gone to save and he decided it would be better to plow it under and start over.
As I reminisce about that weed-infested cotton field, I recall Jesus’ Parable of the Tares. In the parable, Jesus tells of a farmer who planted good (wheat) seed in his field and an enemy came in by night and planted tares, i.e. weeds that resemble wheat. The point of Jesus’ parable explains an aspect of “the Kingdom” often applied to the Church. God seeds the church with “good seed,” i.e. genuine, born-again Christians, and later Satan infiltrates and introduces bad seed into the field, i.e. the Church. Both good and bad seed look pretty much alike, so the owner of the field (the Church), allows both to grow together to be separated at the end of time.
My recollection of the quelite field reminds me of the state of our nation. The weeds are gaining strength. They are spreading out and overshadowing the light to the point that many churches are losing any influence they once had. Worse, many churches are being influenced by the weeds and are beginning to look and sound much like the weeds.
Christians that are paying attention and see the decline of our nation (and the world) encourage other Christians to be bolder in their witness and work harder to turn our nation back to its Christian roots and to do whatever we can to get rid of the weeds. However, that is not happening, much to the chagrin of many well-intentioned Christians. Like that farmer with the weed-infested field, it may be time to plow everything under and start all over. Farmer Jesus may be getting ready to do just that! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
 The misnomer, “chop cotton,” referred to ridding the cotton fields of undesirable weeds by chopping them out with a hoe. The intent was to chop the weeds and leave the cotton standing.
 “Quelite” [keh-lee-teh] is the Spanish name of the plant. Locals “Englishized” the word and called them “keli weeds.” The leaves of the plant are edible and cooked up like turnip greens. As boys, we loved eating them as much as spinach!