Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 13:18-23

Mat 13:18  Hear you therefore the parable of the sower.

Our Redeemer now answers the second question proposed regarding the meaning of the parable, and points out four different descriptions of hearers. 1. Those hardened in sin. 2. Those who were light-minded, and inconstant in good. 3. Those engrossed with the embarrassments and pleasures of life. 4. Those well disposed to receive the Word. His disciples asked our Lord, “the parable” (Mark 4:10), to whom He replied: “Are you ignorant of this parable? and how shall you know all parables?” (Mark 4:13); that is to say, how shall you be able to understand other and more difficult parables, which it shall be your duty to explain to the people?

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 any one heareth the word of the kingdom” of heaven, or of the Gospel, “and understandeth it not,” that is, takes no pains to treasure it up, and by diligent meditation, to bury it deep in his heart, “the wicked one” (ὁ πονηρος) he, who by nature is “wicked”—St. Mark calls him, “Satan;” St. Luke (8:12)—“the devil”—“cometh and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart;” sinners of this description, having been addicted to long and inveterate habits of sin, have their hearts hardened against the impressions of Divine grace. When such sinners hear the Word of God, the devil, this wicked spirit, who dwells in the air, like a foul bird of prey, descends, and waging his fiendish war, by either drawing the attention of this wretched sinner to the objects of former indulgence, and distracting him by presenting a multitude of dissipating thoughts, leaves him no time for reflection on his miserable state; and thus, the fruit which meditation on God’s holy Word might produce, is lost. “This is he that received the seed,” &c., that is, such a person is aptly represented by “the seed” (which fell) “by the way side,” along the hard, beaten path. The seed, which was scattered, “is the Word of God” (Luke 8:11). The soil, or earth on which it fell, is the heart of man. This seed which is, in itself, the same, produces different effects, according to the difference of soil or earth; in other words, according to the difference of dispositions in the hearers. The manifest scope of the parable is to point out that our Lord Himself, is the sower or preacher of His heavenly Word, and that the same Word produces different fruits, according to the dispositions of those who receive it. There are several reasons, or points of analogy, between the Word of God and the seed which is scattered on the earth; and hence the parable is, so far, appropriate. The reading of this verse runs literally thus: “On every one hearing the Word of the kingdom and not understanding it, there cometh,” &c., παντος ακουοντος τον λογον βασιλειας, &c.

“This is he that receiveth the seed,” &c. Literally it is, “this is he that is sown by the way side.” The meaning is well expressed in our version, because “sown” (σπαρεις), means, to receive seed, just as we commonly say of a field, it is sown, or received seed. The meaning is, the seed sown by the road side, and elsewhere, suggests and represents to the mind, such and such hearers of the Word. For, it is not the seed precisely that represents the hearers, but the earth on which the seed, or “Word of God,” falls. This man is represented by the way side or beaten path that received the seed.

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

“He that receiveth the seed on stony ground,” literally, He that is sown in stony ground (σπαρεις), seminatus (see preceding verse), represented by the stony ground on which the seed was cast. “This is he that heareth the Word, and immediately,” &c. He is delighted with the Word of God, its beauty, its utility, rendering us just here, and happy hereafter. He tastes, to a certain extent, the joy described by the Psalmist, “justitiæ Dominirectæ lætificantes corda,” &c. (Psalm 18:9) This class of men make resolutions without end, and perform acts of fervent devotion; but, they want firm constancy of resolution and perseverance. They are not “firmly rooted and founded in charity” (Ephes. 3:17). But, “it is only for a time,” the Word takes root, or, as Luke has it (8:13), “they believe for awhile,” just as long as every thing prospers with them, and the shock of tribulation does not reach them; but the moment “tribulation” from within, or from their own household, or “persecution” from public authority, “because of the Word,” that is, in consequence of their having embraced the faith, assails them; the moment their temporal prospects and their earthly enjoyments are affected by their religious professions, and that the cross, which in some shape or other, must be borne by God’s elect, presents itself, then, “he is presently scandalized.” This “tribulation and persecution,” the dread of losing his position, his wealth, his worldly enjoyment, is become for him an occasion of sin, is become a “scandal,” or “stumbling block,” in his way; he deserts the faith, and the course of life which the Word he received pointed out to him. St. Luke (8:13), expresses it thus: “and in time of temptation they fall away.”

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 who is represented by the land that received the seed among thorns, is he that not only heard the Word; but, unlike the first class of hearers, understood it; and, like the second class, represented by the stony ground (v. 20), gladly embraced the Word, and was delighted with it. But, as the sight of the cross, tribulation and persecution, turned the second class aside; so, in this third class of hearers, the fruit of the Word, after giving hopes of an abundant return, was destroyed, and prevented from reaching maturity, by the “care of this world;” that is, by excessive anxiety, arising from undue attention to the things of this earth; and by “the deceitfulness of riches.” “Riches” are deceitful; because, instead of conferring the happiness which they seem to promise, they are only the fruitful source of chagrin, bitterness, and sorrow. “They that will become rich, fall into temptations … and many unprofitable and hurtful desires,” &c. (1 Tim. 6:9, &c.)

In St. Mark (4:19), there are three causes assigned in connexion with “the thorns,” for choking up the Word of God—“cares of the world, deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts after other things.” So, also, in St. Luke (8:14)—“cares, and riches, and pleasures of life.” To the two causes assigned in this verse by St. Matthew, they add: St. Mark, “the lusts after other things;” St. Luke, “the pleasures of life.” Under these are comprehended, all carnal pleasures and worldly enjoyments prevailing in the world. The same is expressed by St. John, who traces all sin to “the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

St. Luke has, “and going their way, are choked,” &c., that is, following after riches, &c., they are choked by them, or, “going their way,” might mean, being impelled and driven on by riches, &c.

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.

It is remarked, that as there is a threefold class of hearers, who receive the Word of God without fruit; so, there is also a threefold class who derive fruit in different degrees from it, according to the difference of dispositions with which they receive it. St. Luke makes no difference of degree. He only says of the good class, “that in a good, and very good heart, hearing the Word, they keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience;” εν ὑπομονη, in patience, means, the patient expectation of reaping fruit in due time. Similar is the phrase, “in patientia vestra, possidebitis animas vestras,” that is, by their patient endurance of evil, long-suffering, &c.

St. Luke distinguishes this deserving class very pointedly from the three preceding classes. Unlike the first, out of whose hearts the devil takes the word, this class “keep it.” Unlike the second, who receive it on a rock; this class receive it “in a good, and very good heart.” Unlike the third, who, receiving it “in thorns,” “yield no fruit;” this class “bring forth fruit in patience” (8:15).

“Yieldeth one, an hundred fold; and another, sixty,” &c. This difference of yield corresponds with the perfection, greater or less, of those who receive the Word; for, the fruit shall be proportioned to the dispositions of the hearers, and also to the perfection of the state they may have embraced. Hence, St. Jerome, here and Epistle to Ageruchia; St. Athanasius (Epist. ad Anman), assign the hundredth fruit to virgins; the sixtieth, to continent widows; the thirtieth, to chaste nuptials. St. Augustine assigns the hundredth to martyrs; sixtieth, to virgins; and thirtieth, to the married. By “fruit,” some understand good works, which remain, and are persevered in till the time of harvest—unlike the works of those who fall off, on account of persecution, or, owing to the thorns of care and worldly anxiety. Others understand by it, the fruit of merit, to be reaped in the life to come. Likely, it means both.

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