The same day Jesus going out. Jesus here describes the character of the Messianic kingdom in seven parables: first, that of the sower, vv. 1–23; second, that of the cockle, vv. 24–30; third, that of the grain of mustard seed, vv. 31, 32; fourth, that of the leaven, vv. 33; fifth, that of the hidden treasure, v. 44; sixth, that of the pearl, vv. 45, 46; seventh, that of the net, vv. 47–52. Vv. 34–43 contain an explanation of the second parable. The first two parables show the obstacles to the kingdom arising from within and from without; the second two show the efficacy of the kingdom as to its extent and its intensity; the third two parables illustrate the priceless value of the kingdom; the last parable points forward to the consummation of the kingdom [Thomas Aquinas]. Since the evangelist has shown the unfitness of the great mass of the people for the Messianic kingdom, it cannot surprise us that our Lord now employs a manner of speaking the more unintelligible to the multitudes, because they expect a Messianic kingdom far different from that described by Jesus. We may reasonably suppose that the evangelist has here placed together various parables spoken by Jesus on different occasions.
1. Parable of the sower. The same parable is related by Lk. 8:4–8 and Mk. 4:1–9; the second evangelist gives it in the same connection as the first. [A] Wording of the parable, α. “The same day” may signify the day on which the mother and the brethren of our Lord had come to see him, though it may also mean “at that time” generally [cf. Augustine, de cons. 2, 41, 88; some codd.]. β “Going out of the house” refers to the house of Peter in Capharnaum [cf. Mt. 8:14; 9:1]. γ. Jesus first “sat by the seaside,” and when “great multitudes were gathered together unto him,” “he went up into a boat and sat.” δ. The “multitudes stood on the shore,” though the Talmudic tradition that the disciples began to sit only after the time of Gamaliel I appears to be false [cf. Lk. 2:46; Acts 22:3; Aboth i. 4]. ε. “Parables” in a wider sense may embrace proverbial expressions and similitudes [cf. Jn. 10:6; 16:25, 29; Mt. 15:15; 24:32; Mk. 3:23; 4:30]; but in their specific meaning, they are fictions built up on the human life, and illustrating some practical or theoretic truth. Such parables occur even in the Old Testament [Judges 9:7 ff.; 2 Sam 12:2 ff.], and the Rabbinic teachers employed them frequently [Lightf. hor. hebr. ad h. l.; Ed. i. p. 580: Wünsche, p. 160], though they appear to have stated the truth before stating the parable, while our Lord follows the opposite course. ζ. The “many things” which our Lord spoke in parables renders it probable that he spoke more than one parable on this particular occasion [cf. Mk. 4:2, 33; Lk. 8:5]. η. The apparent carelessness of the sower may be explained by his sowing in one of the ways peculiar to the Jews [cf. Edersheim i. p. 586]; for they had two manners of sowing, one by hand, the other by means of an ox carrying a perforated sack of grain over the land that was to be sown. θ. There are three kinds of unprofitable seed, as there will be three degrees of fruitfulness. Jansenius, draws attention to the accuracy of statement according to which the seed fallen on stony ground springs up immediately, owing to the greater warmth; “they had no root” does not deny the presence of any root at all, but must be understood of the weakness of the root [cf. Schanz]. ι. “The thorns” are represented as growing up, so that in their progress they outgrow the wheat, κ. That Galilee was noted for its fertility is clear from Josephu, B. J. III. iii. 2; “an hundred-fold” harvest is known also in Gen. 26:12. λ. The importance of the parable is inculcated by the final admonition, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” [cf. Mt. 11:15]. μ. According to Mk. 4:10 and Lk. 8:9, the apostles asked for an explanation of the parable, while the first gospel insists on their asking the reason why Jesus spoke to the people in parables; this difference is fully in accordance with the different scope of the gospels. For since the teaching in parables was common [1 Kings 4:32; Ecclus. 39:2], the second and third evangelists need not explain this fact to their readers; but the first evangelist had to state why our Lord addressed the multitudes in parables, while he spoke to his disciples in plain language, ν. In answer our Lord calls attention to the difference between the disposition of the multitudes and the disciples: the former have proved themselves unworthy of knowing the mysteries, i. e. the true nature and the divinely appointed properties of the kingdom of God; for they have failed to acknowledge the divine legate in spite of his countless signs and miracles [cf. Mt. 11:7–24; 12:1–45]. The apostles have accepted the person of the Messias, and therefore they will be assisted to understand his mission and kingdom [cf. Rom. 11:25; 16:25; Eph. 1:9; 1 Pet. 1:12]. ξ. Our Lord illustrates this further by what occurs every day in business life: the wealthy become easily wealthier, and the poor easily lose their little property. In the present case, the Jewish multitudes are the poor, possessing only a natural desire after the Messianic goods [cf. Chrysostom], or the blessings of Abraham with the advantages of the law and the prophets [cf. Hilary, Origen, cat. Theophylact, Paschasius, Opus Imperfectum, Calmet]; since they have failed to invest these goods properly, they will lose them in the present Messianic crisis, ο. But this poverty is owing to the fault of the Jews themselves; for though they see the truth theoretically, they do not see it practically, either through malice, as happens on the part of the leaders, or through neglect, as is the case on the part of the multitudes [cf. Chrysostom, Opus Imperfectum, Theophylact, Euthymius, Maldonado, Schegg, Weiss, Keil].
π. “The prophecy of Isaias” [Is. 6:9] was directed to the contemporaries of the prophet; but the gospels and Acts too [Mk. 4:12; Lk. 8:10; Jn. 12:39, 40; Acts 28:26, 27] point out that its fulfilment extends to the Jews of our Lord’s time. The Greek verb for “fulfilled” used in this passage means properly “wholly fulfilled,” and is still further emphasized by its position in the sentence. In the text of the prophecy we must notice its beautifully inverse order of the members: “heart … ears … eyes …; eyes … ears … heart.” The citation follows the Greek version rather than the Hebrew text, for the latter reads: “Hearing hear ye, and understand not; and seeing see ye, and know not. Make fat the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy, and close their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and they be converted and healed.” The main difference between the Greek version and the Hebrew original consists in this, that the former emphasizes more the wickedness of the people, while the latter insists on the divine decree of rejection. The evangelist may have employed the Greek version because he wished to show the guilt of the Jews, or because our Lord himself had quoted the Septuagint, or again it may be supposed that St. Matthew cited the Hebrew original, but that his Greek translator substituted the Septuagint version, since the Hebrew wording of the passage was not necessary for the argument. Our Lord continued to instruct the multitudes though their conversion as a body had become hopeless, because he was anxious to win over those individual souls that had not yet fully shared the guilt of the mass.
[B] Explanation of parable, [a] “Your eyes” and “your ears” form a strong contrast with those of the multitudes, since they see and hear what all the “prophets and just men” have desired to see and hear; this longing of many is expressed in the inspired language of the Old and the New Testament [cf. Is. 45:8; 64:1; 9:6; 11:1 ff.; 35:1 ff.; 60:1 ff.; Jer. 23:5; 23:30, 31; Ps. 44:12; Ez. 34:23; Os. 2:19; Micah. 5:1; Haggai 2:8; etc.; Jn. 8:56; 1 Pet. 1:10–12; etc.]. This predilection shown to the disciples was well calculated to increase their love for their Master and their esteem of their vocation.
[b] Though it would be impious to explain the parable differently from the way in which it has been explained by our Lord himself, a few words of additional comment may not be wholly useless [cf. Hilary]. In general it may be supposed that this parable prepared the disciples for a partial failure of their future preaching.
[c] “The seed by the wayside” represents the word or message of the kingdom [Mt. 4:23; 24:14; Acts 1:3; 28:31] announced, hut not understood, and carried away by the wicked one; the want of understanding may result from sin, or inordinate affections, or neglect of divine things, or flippancy, or carelessness, or slowness of mind. “The wayside” means, therefore, a mind open to worldly thoughts [Opus Imperfectum], or dried up by bad imaginations [Rabanus].
[d] The seed fallen on stony ground represents the message of the kingdom that is joyfully received, but not allowed to penetrate the innermost sources of our thoughts and affections, so that it fails in time of trial and temptation; while, therefore, the first class of converts lose their faith without suffering any external difficulty, the second class lose their faith in time of moderate persecution [cf. Mt. 5:10–12; 7:13; 10:16–22], for they are “presently scandalized.”
[e] As those that hear the word of the kingdom, but do not follow it, are represented by the wayside; and those that hear the word, and receive it, but fall off forthwith, are signified by the stony ground; so are those that hear the word, and receive it, but do not bear fruit, represented by the thorny ground. The thorns are not the world and riches, because they in themselves are indifferent, but the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches [Chrysostom]. Riches really contain two opposites in them, pleasure and pain, care and satisfaction; the one is properly expressed by the “care of the world,” the other by the “deceitfulness of riches.” Both are rightly compared to thorns, because they impede all spiritual fruit, even as thorns choke the fruit of the field; again, both wound and tear the human heart, as thorns wound and tear the human body [Salmeron, Jansenius, Gregory, Dionysius]. Since, then, spiritual fruitfulness and spiritual [if not actual] poverty are correlated, we understand the difficulty of attaining to real spiritual fruitfulness.
[f] To these three classes our Lord adds a fourth, consisting of those that are noted for their fruitfulness; “the good ground” may be good by nature, but it may also have become good by cultivation, in our case, by the removal of inordinate affections; the degrees of disposition and fruitfulness remind one of 1 Cor. 15:41, 42; cf. Tostatus [qu. 18 in c. xviii.].
[g] While, therefore, the doctrine on merit and its different degrees is certainly implied in the parable, its exact application is less certain: Augustine [qu. in evang. i. 9] Paschasius, St Bruno, Thomas Aquinas, see in the three degrees of fruitfulness a representation of martyrs, virgins, and common Christians; Jerome, Alb. Rabanus, speak of virgins, widows, and married people; Theophylact of great ascetics, cenobites, and seculars; Opus Imperfectum of those dead to the world and at the same time suffering infirmities, of those dead to the world, and those detached from riches; St Bruno of the contemplatives, of those leading a mixed life, and those leading an active life; Dionysius of the perfect, of advancers, and beginners; Barradas, Jansenius, Maldonado, Lapide, of the very good, the middling good, and those that are passable; Bed. of those persevering to the end, of those perfect in their works, and the believers in the Holy Trinity.
[h] While the seed may be identified with the word of our Lord and the preaching of the apostles [Chrysostom], the reception of the seed in the soil, its need of rain and sunshine, and its gradual development are rightly regarded as the stages and needs of the spiritual life [Chrysostom, Euthymius, Tostatus qu. 9]. Dion, is not justified in inferring from this parable the small number of the elect, since it cannot be supposed that one fourth of the seed fell on the way, another fourth on rocky soil, a third fourth among thorns, and only the last fourth bore its proper fruit.