Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 13:1-9

Mat 13:1  The same day Jesus going out of the house, sat by the sea side.

“The same day,” may either mean, the same time, about the period at which the events recorded in the preceding chapter, took place—a sense, in which the word, “day,” is often used in the SS. Scripture—or, taken strictly, the day, or evening of the same day. There being no reason for departing from this strict and literal signification of the word, this latter meaning is preferable.

“Going out of the house,” wherein He lodged at Capharnaum, and in which the message referred to (12:47), was conveyed to Him.

“Sat by the sea side,” the Sea of Galilee or Lake of Genesareth, near Capharnaum, called “Sea,” par excellence, as being a very large body of water, surrounded, as we are informed, by the most delightful scenery.

Mat 13:2  And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went up into a boat and sat: and all the multitude stood on the shore.

In consequence of the vast crowds that followed Him from the neighbouring towns and villages to hear His doctrine, our Redeemer retired to the sea coast, and entering a boat, which He used for a pulpit, He addressed the multitudes on the shore.

Mat 13:3  And he spoke to them many things in parables, saying: Behold the sower went forth to sow.
Mat 13:4  And whilst he soweth some fell by the way side, and the birds of the air came and ate them up.
Mat 13:5  And other some fell upon stony ground, where they had not much earth: and they sprung up immediately, because they had no deepness of earth.
Mat 13:6  And when the sun was up they were scorched: and because they had not root, they withered away.
Mat 13:7  And others fell among thorns: and the thorns grew up and choked them.
Mat 13:8  And others fell upon good ground: and they brought forth fruit, some an hundred fold, some sixty fold, and some thirty fold.

“Many things.” Most likely, He spoke much more than is here recorded. For, if every thing which Jesus did, was written, “the world itself would not be able to contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25).

“In parables.” By a Scripture “parable,” is meant, according to Primate Dixon (“Introduction to SS. Scriptures,” vol 1, Dissert. xii. c. iii), “a continued and well arranged narrative of some possible, but fictitious event, applied to the illustration of some sacred truth.” “Parable” and “Proverb” differ in this: that the former is a continued narrative; the latter is always brief. The former expresses the comparison; in the latter, when a comparison exists, it is only implied. The Greek word for “Parable,” occurs only in the three first Evangelists. St. John, in every instance, terms them, not παραβολαι (parables), but παροιμιαι, (proverbs). Both words are often interchanged and used as convertible terms, and identified. The Hebrew word for both is the same, Marshah. Hence, the Septuagint translators of the Book of Solomon, render it, παροιμιαι, Proverbs; and the same word is afterwards rendered by them, παραβολαι, parables. This latter they did, when there was a comparison expressed, and the narrative longer. “Parable” and “Proverb” are, moreover, identified in this: that both, at least, in their origin, were obscure, and hard to be understood. Again, although a proverb conveys no comparison, it is sometimes, a figurative form of expression. For example, “Desire, when it cometh, is a tree of life.” They resemble each other in this respect also, that, a “proverb” is but a condensed parable; it is the essence and substance, of a parable.

The parables of the New Testament always refer to events, that are in accordance with the laws and ordinary course of Nature; events, that often occurred, and were, probably, in many instances, suggested by what was actually occurring before the eyes of the person who uttered them. Thus, for instance, our Redeemer, in the parable of the “Sower,” might be looking at some sower in an adjoining field.

“Applied to the illustration of some sacred truth.” In this, it differs from a Fable the moral of Which is always intended to illustrate some maxim, of human prudence. The Parable is always intended to illustrate some high spiritual maxims.

The venerable and learned authority already quoted, observes: The Parable appears to bear the same relation to the Simile, that the Allegory bears to the Metaphor; and, hence, in Scripture, the Parable is generally introduced by some such form as, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto,” &c., from which it would appear, that the Parable is but a prolonged Simile.

It was common with the people of the East, and well suited to the natural temperament of Eastern nations, to employ parables for the purpose of conveying and illustrating abstract moral truths. St. Jerome tells us, this was quite usual among the people of Palestine particularly. “Familiare est Syris et maxime Palestinis ad omnem Sermonem suum parabolas jungere” (St. Jerome).

Hence, our Redeemer, accommodating Himself to the prevalent usages and manners of the people, frequently employs parables to convey and illustrate His heavenly doctrines. This method of illustrating moral truths, was attended with many advantages. Besides fixing the attention on the subjects treated of, and of exciting curiosity, it served to impress more vividly on the minds and imaginations of the hearers, the abstract truths illustrated through the medium of sensible images, and of objects familiar to them; and thus served as a most powerful help to memory. It was attended with another advantage—the only one referred to here by our Redeemer—“it protected the sacred Word from the disrespect with which the ill-disposed would have received it, had it been plainly announced” (Dixon, ibidem). “In the explanation of Scripture parables, two things must be principally attended to—1st. That in the parables, persons are not compared with persons, nor the parts of the parable with the parts of the thing signified, but the whole parable is compared with the whole thing which it illustrates. 2ndly. In the interpretation of parables, all things in the parables are not to be applied to the thing signified.… Some things are introduced in the parable, merely for the purpose of rendering the narrative consistent throughout; mere ornaments of the narrative” (loco citato.)

(First Parable.) “Saying.” St. Mark (4:3), says, He solicited their attention, saying, “Hear ye; Behold, the sower went forth,” &c. The evident scope of the parable, is to point out the fruit or effect produced by God’s Word—by the same seed, that was scattered on the good and bad soil—according to the different dispositions, whether good or evil, and in several degrees, on the part of the hearers.

Our Redeemer Himself explains the parable, in verse 18, &c.

Mat 13:9  He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

As it required great attention to understand this parable; and, moreover, no one could understand it, unless “it was given;” hence, our Lord, as was His wont, in treating of matters of importance, or of obscure and difficult subjects, solicits their attention to whom “it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.”

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One Response to Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 13:1-9

  1. Pingback: Commentaries and Resources for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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