Father Maldonatus’ Commentary on Matthew 13:1-9

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

So great multitudes came to Christ in the house that it could not contain them all, and therefore the brethren stood without (12:46; St  Luke 8:19). He therefore went to the sea, that He might bring the greatest possible number to Him, as Euthymius says.

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.

And great multitudes were gathered together. The Evangelist relates this to show the reason of the assembly, and of the parables which Christ was about to put forth. Christ put forth these parables, especially that of the Sower, because he saw a great multitude of listeners, among whom, as He knew, and as was probable in itself, were some like the wayside, some like the stony places, some like the thorns, some like the good ground.

So that He went up into a boat and sate. He went up into a boat, either that He might not be overwhelmed by the multitude and be unable to be heard, or, as S. Chrysostom and Theophylact think, that He might have all His hearers in sight, and attentive to Him.

Mat 13:3  And he spoke to them many things in parables, saying: Behold the sower went forth to sow.

“In” (in parabolis) is put for “per,” according to the Hebrew custom, for in Hebrew “in” means through in Aggai 1:3 2:2. They are called parables in Greek, similitudes in Latin, masal (enigmata) in Hebrew. They are a kind of sermon, in which one thing is said and another meant, and are wrapped up in obscure comparisons. The word is so common among ecclesiastical writers that (as in some of the earlier ages) they call every word a parable. Why Christ pleased to speak not explicitly and openly, but in parable, He will Himself explain in verse 13.

Note: At this point the author notifies us that the following verses (4-8) will be interpreted at verses 19-23 where we read of our Lord’s explanation of the Parable.  I will reproduce those notes below, after verse 8.

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.

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


Mat 13:19  When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, there cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart: this is he that received the seed by the way side.

When anyone (omnis) heareth the Word of The Kingdom and understandeth it not.
Does not conceal it deeply in his mind: does not cherish it: does not meditate upon it; but buries it, as it were, in the soil of his heart. For it is not always a fault not to understand, although it is spoken of here as such. We should, therefore, understand it here as in Ps 40:1: “Blessed is he that understandeth concerning the needy and the poor”—that is, who has a care of him, who cherishes him, protects, nourishes him. Omnis is here a nominativus redundans, according to the Hebrew idiom.

There cometh the wicked one. ὁ πονηρός (ho ponēros), “the devil,” as in chap 6:13 and elsewhere.

This is he that receiveth seed by the wayside. These words have given rise to the question as to how one who hears but does not understand can be said to be sowed by the wayside, for it is not he, but the seed, that is sown. For “while he sowed, some fell by the wayside, and some on stony ground” (verse 4). But the question does not appear unusually difficult. Both the seed that is scattered and the field upon which it is scattered, are saidto be sown, and hence the fields themselves which are sown are called the seed sown. So that he who hears the Word of the Kingdom and does not understand it is said to be sown by the wayside, not as the seed, but as the field and the ground by the wayside, which are hard and trodden by the feet of the passers-by. In the same sense verses 20, 22, 23, are to be understood, Christ terms Himself the Sower: the seed the Word of the Gospel: the field the world: the various soils in the same field—some by the wayside, some stony, some covered with thorns, some good—the different manners of men ; the devils are birds, who endeavour to prevent the good seed from being cherished in our hearts. They who hear and do not understand He compares to the trodden way, because as the seed which falls by the wayside is covered by no earth, but lies exposed to the birds, so the Word of God, which falls on the ears of the body, but does not sink down into the mind, as if covered by no soil, is easily carried off by the devil.

Mat 13:20  And he that received the seed upon stony ground, is he that heareth the word, and immediately receiveth it with joy.

Immediately receiveth it with joy. Such an one receives the seed, understands, lays it up, covers it with the soil of his heart. This man is opposed to him who, when he hears, does not understand (verse 19). The words “with joy” are used to show the levity of the recipient. For no hearers have less constancy than they who are ardent in the beginning. This class of feeling often comes by practice. They who come quickly, quickly go away, as is said in the verse following.

Mat 13:21  Yet hath he not root in himself, but is only for a time: and when there ariseth tribulation and persecution because of the word, he is presently scandalized.

Yet hath he not root in himself. He has no constancy. He has no deep impression of the Word of God in his mind, because he has not much earth; that is, a strong and, so to say, a deep will. The seeds which have fallen upon him spring up, therefore, at once, because they have not much earth, as in verse 5. For seed which is only covered by the surface of the earth quickly springs up, but also, when the sun grows warm and the root is parched, withers away. That which sinks deeply into the ground grows up late, but lasts long. The cause of both is the same: because it has much earth, which hinders it from appearing quickly; when it has sprung up, the moisture from beneath supports it.

Mat 13:22  And he that received the seed among thorns, is he that heareth the word, and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choketh up the word, and he becometh fruitless.

He that received the seed.  See note on verse 19.

Among thorns. He who receives the seed into a plentiful and rich soil, but one which is full of thorns.

Is he that heareth the Word of God. Christ meant more than He said. We must understand one who hears and receives, as Christ said before of him who receives the Word with joy. Christ prefers the latter to the former, as if he belonged more nearly to those who bear fruit many fold. The Word springs up in him, but the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke it up, and cause it to bear no fruit. Christ called the care of this world everything that men seek besides the kingdom of God: honour, ambition, business, lawsuits; in a word, whatever impedes men in seeking the kingdom of God. Among these are included riches, and Christ names them expressly because most men pursue them with open zeal. He calls them deceitful, both because they are fugitive and unstable, and because they deceive men. The deceitfulness of riches is a Hebrew expression for deceitful riches, as the body of this death for this mortal body (Rom 7:24).

Mat 13:23  But he that received the seed upon good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth, and beareth fruit, and yieldeth the one an hundredfold, and another sixty, and another thirty.

But he that received the seed upon good ground. As Christ made a threefold division of those who brought forth no fruit, so, as S. Jerome observes, He distinguishes between the three classes who bring forth fruit, in which are comprehended all men of either class. He calls the good ground that which is not only so by its own nature, but that which is well tilled, well prepared, well dressed. That which fell by the wayside was good, but not cultivated; and that which was choked by thorns was perhaps good, but not dressed. That is called absolutely good which is rich by nature, and well cultivated by diligence. Thus the example fits men better. The nature of men is the same, that is, good per se, and their will is good; but some, either by not cultivating it, like that by the wayside, or by not ploughing deeply the rocky soil, or by not dressing it, make it thorny.

And yieldeth the one an hundredfold. The Greek ordinal nouns, as grammarians call them, are put for distributives, as the sense shows, for Christ desired to say that they brought forth each his own measure, some a hundred each, some fifty, some thirty. The Latin version, for centenis, sexagenis, tricenis, has centesimum, sexagesimum, trigesimum, a form of word not in common use, though some authors, not otherwise inelegant, use them. Christ calls either good works, which are the product of faith and of the Word of God, ” fruits ” (21:43), or more probably, perhaps, eternal life (2 Cor 9:6, 10; Gal 6:7, 8; James 3:18). Two errors of Luther and Calvin are overthrown by these words, 1. They deny that we can merit eternal life; for the fruit answers not only to the quality of the soil, but to the diligence of the cultivator. Nay, each one of us, as S. Augustin says, can make himself a good or a bad soil. 2. They say that the reward of all the blessed will be equal, when we see some bring forth fruit a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty, as each cultivates his ground. S. Luke (8:15) adds: “But that on the good ground are they who, in a good and very good heart, hearing the Word, keep it and bring forth fruit in patience “.

Christ did not say that whosover lived holily to Him should therefore suffer persecution (2 Tim 3:12), as some of these heretics declare; but that “you shall be hated for My name’s sake, but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved’ (10:22). For Christ, speaking of the tree and its fruits, alludes to the patience of the husbandman (1 Cor 9:10). He then wished to contrast the latter with the former, who sprang up immediately, because they had not much earth (verse 5). For the former do not bear fruit; but the latter bear it patiently and long, but at length bear it the more richly on that account.

Some of the Ancients refer the hundredfold to virgins, sixtyfold to widows, thirtyfold to the married, as S. Jerome (in loc, and i.. Against Jovinian, and Apology to Pamniachius) and S. Athanasius (Epistle to Ammus).

Others refer the hundredfold to the martyrs, the sixtyfold to virgins, the thirtyfold to the married, as S. Augustin (1., Quests. Evang., q. 9).

Others, the hundredfold to the martyrs, the sixtyfold to those who have sold their goods for the sake of Christ and given them to the poor, the thirtyfold to those who are constant in the observance of the Commandments, as The Author (Hom. xxxi.).

Others refer the hundredfold to the anchorites, the sixtyfold to the csnobites, the thirtyfold to the married, as Theophylact (in loc.)

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One Response to Father Maldonatus’ 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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