An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, our Lord leaving His house, proceeds to the sea shore, where He speaks to the people in parables (1–2). The first is the parable of the sower and the seed (3–8), which parable He Himself explains (18–23). His disciples having asked Him why He spoke in parables to the people, He assigns the cause (9–15), and He also assigns His reason for speaking intelligibly to His disciples, and points out the peculiar blessedness they enjoyed, even beyond the Prophets and just of old (16–18). He then explains the parable of the sower (18–23). He next proposes the parable of the cockle and the good seed (24–31), which He explains, in compliance with the request of His disciples, when alone in the house (36–43). He next proposes the parable of the mustard seed and of the leaven hidden in the baked bread (31–33). In thus discoursing in parables. He fulfilled the ancient prophecies (31–35). He explains the parable of the cockle (36–43). He next speaks of the parables of the hidden treasure, the pearls, and the drag net, and points out the duty of the Apostles, as spiritual teachers, to explain these things hereafter to the people (44–52). We have, next, an account of our Redeemer’s arrival in His native place of Nazareth; of the wonder His teaching and miracles produced among the people; their incredulity, on account of which He did not perform many miracles there.

1. “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.

2. 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.

3. “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.

Of some possible, but fictitious event.” 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.)

3. (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.

9. 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.”

10. “And His disciples came and said to Him.” From St. Mark (4:10), it appears, the disciples did this after our Redeemer had retired to His house, and was alone with them, having sent away the crowds. He had proposed, consecutively, some of the parables recorded here, before He was asked by His disciples to explain the meaning, “Why speakest Thou to them in parables?” and, then, it was He explained them. But, St. Matthew, in his narrative, interrupts the course of the parables, and after narrating that of the sower, he describes, by anticipation, the request of the disciples to have it explained. They, it would seem, proposed a twofold question; 1st. As in this verse, why did He speak to the people in parables? 2nd. What the parable meant. “What this parable might be” (Luke 8:9); “they asked Him the parable” (Mark 4:10). Hence, our Redeemer gives a twofold answer.

11. He answers the first question in this verse. He reserves the answer to the second, for verse 18. It is deserving of remark, that our Redeemer, in His reply, does not assign all His reasons for speaking in parables. There were several reasons of utility for this, not to speak of the peculiar accommodation of parabolic language to the lively and imaginative temperament of the Eastern peoples (see v. 3). The reason here assigned by our Redeemer, is simply in reply to the question of His disciples, “Why speakest Thou to them in parables?” Because, to His disciples, and all who believe in Him, “it was GIVEN”—which implies, that the knowledge of spiritual truths, and the capacity for understanding them, is the pure gift of God, and comes, not from the strength of nature; but, from God’s holy grace—“to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven;” that is, to have a full knowledge of the hidden kingdom of Christ, and faith in Him. To them were given ears to hear, and holy dispositions to profit by the instructions of our Lord, as their eager inquiries indicated (Mark 4:10).

But, to them it is not given,” to them who have ears to hear, and hear not, who harden their hearts against the impressions of Divine grace, “it is not given” to know the hidden spiritual truths (“the mysteries”) connected with “the kingdom of heaven;” and, therefore, these truths are not proposed to them in their plain, naked form, as they might and would, reject and spurn them. And so, these pearls are not to be cast before, swine; they must be veiled under the image of parables, to save them from disrespect and profanation. As if He said: To you I speak in plain language; because, to you, who are humble and docile, and glowing with the desire of hearing and understanding, it has been granted, as a singular favour, by the Father of lights, to know, not alone the Evangelical truths, which all should know, and which I, therefore, always expound in the plainest language; but also, “the mysteries,” the secret and admirable dispensations of Providence regarding the progress of the Gospel, as well among Jews as among Gentiles. But to them, most of whom, either disbelieve, or are influenced by idle curiosity, or despise and calumniate My doctrines, this special favour granted to you is not given. It is rather withheld from them by My Father, having proved themselves unworthy of it by their pride, unbelief, and abuse of gifts already bestowed on them.

12. In this verse is conveyed a reason for the foregoing dispensation of giving these gifts to the Apostles, and of withholding them from the others; and, consequently, for His speaking obscurely to the latter class, and plainly to the former (see 25:29).

That hath,” that makes good use of the gifts he possesses, faithfully corresponds with the graces received, and employs them advantageously, according to the intentions of the original donor. “To him (more, or a further increase of gifts), shall be given, and he shall abound” the more. “But he that hath not,” who neglects to turn to profit or advantage the gifts he has; so that, although possessing them, he might be said, not to have them, as he uses them not, and might as well not have them at all, which is illustrated by “having eyes and seeing not.” “Even that which he hath”—in chapter 25:29, it is, “that which he SEEMETH to have;” and Luke (8:18), “that which he THINKETH he hath”—“shall be taken away from him.”

This would seem to be a proverbial form of expression, applied by our Redeemer to His present purpose, as if to convey to us, that what is said commonly to occur, is verified also in regard to the kingdom of heaven.

In this verse is conveyed, that while the knowledge of the mysteries of faith, and assent to them, come from God’s grace, our own free will has a share in meriting, or not meriting, their further increase and extension. “He that HATH,” that is, that freely uses and employs. “Hath not,” freely neglects using and properly employing them.

Here, then, the adagial expression means: To you I plainly disclose the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; because, having faith and a desire of further gifts, you faithfully correspond with God’s designs, and, aided by His grace, you profitably employ the gifts already conferred on you. But to the others, “who are without” (Mark 4:11), who, through their own fault, are devoid of faith, and have no desire of knowing the truth, and of profiting by the grace already bestowed, I speak in an obscure way; for, in punishment of their voluntary abuse of My gifts, they may be classed with those “who have not,” who neglect employing the faculties and gifts bestowed on them. “Hath,” manifestly means, “to use;” and “hath not,” to neglect using, the gifts one possesses; because, there is question here of merited rewards and punishment; and the reward conferred on one, and the punishment inflicted on the other, is founded on the use or neglect of the gifts they respectively possessed.

In the words, “but he that hath not, that also which he bath, shall be taken from him.” “HATH NOT,” means, uses not. “That also which he HATH,” means, actually possesses, viz., the knowledge of Divine things, which he has or seems to have—the preaching of the Gospel—which he has hitherto enjoyed; nay, the very natural light of reason, which he has abused, shall, in punishment of this abuse, be taken from him, so that he shall become blinder and blinder still, and in punishment of his ingratitude, delivered up to a reprobate sense.

13. “Because seeing, they see not,” &c. Because, seeing My miracles, and hearing My heavenly doctrines, they are like men who have not the faculty of seeing or hearing; they have no wish to believe or to understand. “Therefore,” it is, in punishment of their perversity, being unwilling to believe or receive what is clear, they deserve to be addressed in an obscure style of language, which they would not understand.

The words of this verse contain an application to the Jewish multitudes, and an illustration or elucidation, of the general proverbial truths of the preceding verse. The application, in the words, “therefore, I speak to them in parables;” the elucidation, in the words, “because hearing, they hear not, seeing, they see not.”

Neither do they understand,” is a fuller explanation of “seeing and hearing,” which clearly mean, intellectual seeing and hearing.

In Mark (4:12), Luke (8:10), the words are, “THAT seeing, they may see and not perceive,” &c. This reading is easily explained and reconciled with the reading of St. Matthew here. It is likely, our Redeemer used and meant both forms of expression, so as to intimate that the blindness of this people was partly owing to their own perversity; partly, to the just judgment of God. The word, “that,” expresses, not the end or final cause; but, the consequence or result of their voluntarily closing their eyes. The consequence of their failing and neglecting to profit by God’s grace is, that they are permitted to persevere in the state of blindness and obduracy, in which, we are informed here by St. Matthew, they had been already. In Mark and Luke, is shown how the judgment of taking away is fearfully exercised in the spiritual reprobation of the Jews, who, by Divine permission, are left and abandoned in their blindness and hardness of heart, in punishment of their pride and contempt of grace.

In interpreting this and similar passages, we must utterly abhor the blasphemy of some heretics, who make God the author of sin. In cases of obduracy and impenitence, He, by a just judgment, withdraws His lights and graces, from which the sinner’s obduracy follows as infallibly, as if God had positively blinded and hardened him.

14. “The prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled in them.” The words addressed by Isaias to the men of his own day, have their principal fulfilment in the men of our Redeemer’s time—who were the same people with the Jews who lived in the days of Isaias—and in all others, who at any future period may abuse or neglect the grace of God.

By hearing, you shall hear,” &c. (Isaias 6:9, &c.) The reading is different in Isaias. According to St. Jerome’s version it is: “Go, and thou shalt say to this people: Hearing, hear and understand not; and see the vision, and know it not. Blind the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy,” &c. In this imperative form, found in the original Hebrew, and literally rendered by St. Jerome, the Prophet is commanded to predict the blindness and obduracy of the Jewish people. St. Matthew here follows the Septuagint version, which, for the imperative, employs a future indicative—a thing by no means unusual with the Hebrews—and explains the meaning of the original words of the Prophet. Hence, “by hearing, you shall hear,” the future indicative, properly expresses the meaning of the imperative words, “hearing, hear,” &c., as a prophecy of the blindness and obduracy which would be permitted, by a just judgment of God, to befall the Jewish people, who obstinately refuse to admit our Redeemer’s Divinity, and the truth of His doctrine, in presence of the many splendid miracles He had performed in their midst.

15. “For, the heart of this people is grown gross,” &c., is a clearer expression, according to the Septuagint version, followed by St. Matthew, of the form employed by the Prophet, “blind the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy;” because, the Prophet could not, from himself, blind their hearts any more than he could enlighten them. Hence, he is only told, “Go and SAY to this people,” &c., that is, to predict that this melancholy result of spiritual blindness was to take place, which the form used by St. Matthew clearly expresses. Such is the force of a command or imprecation addressed by God to a prophet, that it is generally equivalent to a prediction of the event, or of the evil which God, in His anger, permits. Thus we have, “quod facis, FAC citius,” “SOLVITE templum hoc,” &c. The words of this verse, metaphorically refer to the faculties of the soul, viz., the intellect, and the will.

And with their ears,” &c., is expressed in the imperative, in the original Hebrew.

And their eyes they have shut,” also expressed imperatively by the Prophet. They merely convey a prophecy of what was to take place.

The Greek word for, “have shut” (εκαμμυσαν), means, to close the eyelids. Hence, according to the reading adopted by St. Matthew, it is the Jews themselves that, by a voluntary act, have closed their eyes, and shut their ears, against the impressions of Divine grace.

Lest at any time, they should see with their eyes,” &c. Shows their great perversity in refusing the lights and graces of God. They affected ignorance, lest they should give up sin—“noluit intelligere ut bene ageret” (Psa. 35:4). The words, “lest at any time” (μηποτε), signifies, in the Hebrew, lest, perhaps, as they are translated by St. Luke (Acts 28:27).

And I should heal them.” The Hebrew, is in the third person, “and they should be healed;” or, healing be granted them—“sanatio sit eis.”

16. He pronounces His Apostles happy—in contrast with the wretched men of Capharnaum, the Scribes and Pharisees, cursed with spiritual blindness—because, they not only saw our Redeemer, and His wonderful works, with the eyes of the body, and heard His sacred preaching, as did the incredulous multitude; but, they saw them with the eyes of their mind, by understanding Him. They also believed in His miracles, and the preaching regarding His Divinity, which they heard.

17. He extols the special privileges and happiness enjoyed by His Apostles, by comparing their lot, not only with that of the incredulous Jews; but, with that of the just of old. They were blessed beyond the Jews of their own day; because, they saw, also spiritually, what the others only saw corporally; and beyond the just of old, who only saw by faith, at a distant futurity, what they had the happiness of seeing in person. The Apostles are blessed beyond the Jews, on account of spiritual vision; beyond the Patriarchs, &c., on account of corporal vision. These latter could only salute from afar, the things that were present to the Apostles.

St. Luke (10:24) has, “Many prophets and kings have desired,” &c.; “Abraham rejoiced that he might see His day” (John 8:56); Jacob “looked for His salvation” (Gen. 49:18). The saints of old yearned for it, and pierced the heavens with their cries—“rorate cœli desuper et nubes pluant justum.” (Isa. 45:8). In this verse, our Redeemer shows the incomparable privilege bestowed on the Apostles; inasmuch, as on them, who were distinguished, neither for exalted rank, nor wisdom, nor justice, were conferred blessings denied to men high in favour with God, remarkable for justice, and clothed with the royal dignity, although anxiously longing to see the Son of God in the flesh.

The words of this verse are by no means opposed to the words, “Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed;” because, in these latter words, the comparison is between those who believe without seeing, and those who, measuring faith by their own vision, believe only the things which they see. The Apostles both saw and believed. Abraham was blessed in believing what he saw not, save at a distant futurity. But the Apostles were still more blessed; because, they clearly saw with the eyes of the body, what he saw only obscurely, at a distance, with the eyes of the mind (Heb. 11:13; 1 Peter 1:10–12).

18. 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?

19. “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.

20, 21. “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.”

22. 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.

23. 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.

24. (Second Parable.) In the foregoing parable, our Lord conveys, that the Gospel seed does not always produce fruit in the hearers; that three-fourths of the seed produced no fruit at all, on account of the soil on which it fell. Only a fourth part, that fell on good soil, was productive. He now proposes another parable, closely connected with the subject of the foregoing. In this parable of “the cockle” He wishes to inform us, that even on the good soil—God’s Church—not all are good or virtuous. The good are sometimes mixed with hypocrites and wicked men; that the good seed which produced such abundant fruit, referred to, in the preceding verse, is not always free from weeds, which are sometimes mixed up with it.

The kingdom of heaven,” viz., the Church of Christ, “is likened to a man that sowed good seed,” &c. The kingdom of heaven is not precisely like the man who sows seed. The meaning of this and similar forms of expression is: Something happens in regard to the kingdom of heaven, similar to what follows, &c.; and in reference to the present example, this is clearly expressed by St. Mark (4:26), “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the earth.” In the application of parables to the principal subject, which they are intended to illustrate, it is neither necessary, nor, sometimes, expedient, to apply all the parts of the parable to the parts of the subject of illustration; but, only the whole subject, or, rather, the principal parts, of the parable, to the whole subject to be illustrated; since, there are several parts of the parable that have no signification or force whatever in the mind of the speaker, and are introduced for ornament’s sake, and for the purpose of rendering the narrative in the parable complete, consistent, and true to nature throughout, in regard to the, literal and original texture of the parable itself. The parts of the parable to be applied can be easily seen from the scope of those who employ it, and from the context. Thus, we see that in the explanation and application of this parable of the cockle, by our Blessed Lord (v. 37), at the earnest prayer of His Apostles, He says nothing whatever of the servants, who wished to pluck up the cockle, and gather it up, nor of the sleep of the husbandman, during which the enemy sowed the cockle, &c.; because, probably, these parts had nothing to do with the main object He had in view in introducing the parable.

25. “But while men were asleep,” simply means, during the darkness of the night, when the world is at rest. Others understand it, of the indolent neglect of the pastors of the Church. “His enemy came.” The sower of the good seed was the first to sow the seed in his field, and this in the light of day; the enemy came furtively in the night, to sow cockle over it, where the good seed had been previously sown.

26. When the good seed was on the point of maturity, the cockle appeared.

27. Who “the servants” are, our Redeemer does not say, in His exposition of the parable; probably, because this did not fall within the general scope of the parable, but was introduced merely to fill up the parabolical narrative.

By “servants,” some understand, the angels (St. Jerome). Others, with St. Augustine, understand by them, good men, zealous in the cause of justice.

28. “Wilt thou?” &c., shows the zeal of the servants of God, who would have no wicked men in the world, nor cockle in the field of the Lord.

29. Our Lord restrains their zeal, lest, in the indiscriminate destruction of the wicked, the good also should suffer. From the words of this verse, it by no means follows, that the disseminators of false doctrines, or of wicked principles, should be permitted, whenever there is power to restrain them, to circulate their false and wicked principles, without hindrance or punishment. All that follows from this passage is, that no persons are warranted, of their own private authority, to punish such men, any more than they are permitted to punish evil-doers, in other respects, of their own authority. But those vested with public authority are not prohibited, for the general good, to visit transgressors, whether against faith or morals, with due punishment. The laws of all civilized and Christian states punish gross violations of the moral law. Moreover, we are not to apply to the subject all the parts of a parable. But, even supposing this part were applied, all that would follow is, that, in general, the wicked of all classes, are to be tolerated and permitted to live among the good. Besides, so far as the reason assigned here, by the father of the family, is concerned, the toleration towards them holds only when there is any doubt about them, and they are not manifestly guilty, and distinguishable from the good; but whenever their guilt is so manifest, that such people have no defenders, and there can be no fear of evil consequences, then, so far as the reason assigned here is concerned, there is nothing against extirpating and punishing the incorrigible and perverse enemies of religion and society; and this particularly holds when the punishment of miscreants, who scatter broadcast principles subversive of all order, of civil society, as well as of religion, is necessary for the preservation of the good seed.

30. This verse is fully explained by our Lord Himself, (vv. 39, 40, &c.) He explains the parable of the cockle (vv. 37–43).

37. The sower is our Redeemer Himself, who, while on earth, preached the Word, and now employs the ministry of His servants for the same end.

38. “The field is the world,” by which some understand, the Church, extended all over the earth; but, as “the children of the wicked one,” most probably include heretics, who are not in the Church, hence, it may be better to understand the word in its strict literal signification, unless it might be said in reply, that it only includes private heretics who are not distinguishable from the true believers.

The good seed, the children of the kingdom,” viz., those who are destined for eternal life—those who observe the law of faith and morals. “The cockle, the children of the wicked one”—the devil, those who do his works, wicked works whether against faith or morals. Some understand, by “the children of the kingdom,” all believers, whether elect or not;—thus it is said of “the children of the kingdom” elsewhere, that they shall be cast “into outer darkness”—and, by “the children of the wicked one,” heretics.

40. As the cockle is gathered up, so the wicked shall be “bound in bundles”—the heretics with heretics, the unjust with unjust, the unclean with the unclean, &c., and cast into hell fire.

41. “All scandals,” i.e., scandalous sinners, and those who commit every other species of iniquity. The application of the parable is briefly this: The Son of man has, both by Himself and His servants, placed in this world, as in His field, men pre-ordained for eternal life. But, the devil—the sworn enemy of the human race—has sown in their midst, and shall continue to do so, wicked men, placing them in the midst of the just, who, although unworthy of the society of the just, are still to be tolerated, until God, at the end of the world, shall cause the final separation, devoting the one class to eternal misery, rewarding the other with eternal glory.

42. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth,” is explained by some, of the extremes of heat and cold, as if this “gnashing of teeth” were caused by sudden transitions from one extreme to the other. The words are commonly understood to refer to hell. The words may be regarded as expressive of extreme torture of any kind. “Gnashing of teeth,” expressive of rage. Thus (Acts 7:54), the rage of the Jews is expressed in the words, “they gnashed with their teeth at Him.”

43. The incomparable happiness and glory of the Elect is clearly signified by the brightness of the sun. This glory, however, shall vary with the diversity of merits (1 Cor. 15:39–41). Our Redeemer had, probably, in view the words of the Prophet Daniel (12:3), “they that instruct many unto justice, shall shine as stars,” &c.

He that hath ears,” &c. Our Redeemer employs this form of words to convey, that the subject treated of intimately concerns His hearers.

31. (Third Parable.) This is the place to explain, in order, the words of St. Mark (4:26), where the third parable uttered by our Redeemer, is recorded.

So is the kingdom of heaven,” that is, something happens in regard to “the kingdom of heaven;” or, to the preaching of the Gospel, “as if a man should cast seed into the earth” (Mark 4:26), “and should sleep and rise, night and day,” devoting himself to other matters, whether appertaining to rest or labour, he would sleep at night, and rise to his usual avocations in the day; and the seed would grow up, whilst the sower had no thought or concern about its growth.

Sleep and rise,” are understood by some, of the “seed,” which would “sleep,” by being committed to the earth, and afterwards “rise,” that is, grow up day and night, whilst the sower never thinks of it. However, the words, more probably, refer to the husbandman, as explained above, the word, “sleep,” having reference to “night,” and “rise” to the “day.” “For the earth itself” (Mark 4:28), without any further culture from the husbandman, but not exclusive of other concurring causes, e.g., sun, rain, and God Himself, “bringeth forth fruit,” &c.

And when the fruit is brought forth” (Mark 4:29). The Greek for, “is brought forth” (παραδοῖ), means, “brings forth,” in which case, “fruit” may be understood of the grain, itself the fruit of a former sowing; or, if the word, “fruit,” be understood of the present grain springing forth from the seed sown, then, “brings forth,” will have the meaning given in our version, “is brought forth;” or, “brings forth,” manifests and shows itself.

Our Blessed Redeemer does not Himself explain this and the following parables, as He had been graciously pleased to do in regard to the two preceding ones. However, the parable manifestly points out to us, that in the work of preaching the Gospel, we should not be cast down by any apparent want of success in our labours. The labour is ours, but the increase must come from God; and, like the natural fruits of the earth, it is only in time we can expect the spiritual fruit, for which, like the husbandman, we must patiently wait, until God shall be pleased to bestow the fertile influences of “the early and the latter rain” (James 5:7). As the seed committed to the earth imperceptibly springs up, even when the husbandman is not thinking of it; so, does the Word of God, committed to a heart disposed for its reception, imperceptibly shoot forth, whilst the preacher has no thought whatever regarding it. Again, as the seed successively produces the ear, the stalk, &c.; so does the Word of God gradually bring about the full fruit of salvation, in the hearer disposed to profit by it. Holy desires, disrelish for the vanities of the world, feelings of compunction, faith in God, and hope in His promises, may be called the stalk. Good works, victory of the soul over her passions, and over the temptations of the devil, the ear; perseverance in grace and charity, the full corn in ear; and, finally, a happy death, and the enjoyment of bliss, are the putting in of the sickle, and the final gathering in of the harvest (Mauduit and Rutter).

31. (Fourth Parable.) This is the fourth parable, which in St. Mark (4:30), is thus introduced: “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? or to what parable shall we compare it?”

The spread of the Church, and the Gospel doctrine—the meaning of, “kingdom of heaven”—is, “like to a grain of mustard seed,” &c.

32. “Which is indeed the least of all seeds.” There are some smaller seeds. The words mean, it is one of the least of all seeds. It is quite a common form of expression, when speaking of something small, to speak of it in the superlative, and to say of it, it is the least, or, a very small, thing. “But when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs.” In hot countries, the mustard seed grows into a small tree, exceeding in height the human stature (Lucas Brugensis), “so that the birds of the air come and dwell,” that is, perch, “in the branches thereof.” The Greek word, κατασκηνοῦν, would convey the idea, of nestling, or fixing their abode. But the word, “dwell,” may mean, to rest, or perch, on the branches.

The parable of the mustard seed, exhibits the great virtue and active efficacy of the Gospel doctrine. It was a proverbial kind of saying among the Jews, when they spoke of anything very small, to compare it to a mustard seed. The parable of the mustard seed is not explained by our Divine Redeemer. We are left to explain it ourselves. The holy Fathers understand it, of the spread of the faith and of the Gospel. It exhibits to us also the great virtue and active efficacy of the Gospel doctrine. This doctrine of the Gospel, whereby the Church was founded, and gathered together, was, from a human point of view, the meanest and most contemptible of all other doctrines, whether we regard the subjects it propounded—the mysterious doctrines of original sin, and the other mysteries impervious to human reason—its maxims so opposed to flesh and blood; or, its original Founder, a crucified Man, the preaching of whose Divinity scandalized the Jews, and made the Gentiles cry, “folly;” or, the instruments employed in its propagation—a few illiterate, ignorant fishermen, without knowledge, station, or influence, who were to combat the wisdom of the philosopher, and the eloquence of the rhetorician; and yet, notwithstanding these obstacles, humanly speaking, insuperable, this small grain of mustard seed, after being some time buried in the earth, extended itself far and wide, encircling the habitable globe, covering, with its ample shade, the great ones of the world; those elevated above their fellows in learning, such as the philosophers; in power and station, such as kings and princes. Or, “birds,” may rather signify those elevated souls, whose aspirations tended aloft towards the happiness of heaven. This Gospel doctrine, after extending itself to the entire earth, produced numberless saints, out of all conditions of life, who exhibited the most striking examples of heroic virtue; so that the Church, propagated by this doctrine, far exceeds, in point of extent, permanency, and splendour, every sect existing in this world (Mauduit).

This parable represents the increase of the Church, by means of the Gospel doctrine. For, the Church—“the kingdom of heaven”—like to a grain of mustard, the least of seeds, which grows into a tree, was first very small when planted by Christ on earth; but, glowing with charity, it became a great tree, like that described by Daniel (4:7).

33. (Fifth Parable.) This parable has the same scope and object as the preceding. It shows the great and active efficacy of the Gospel doctrine, and the wonderful spread of the Church, from very small beginnings. The word, “leaven,” is often taken in a bad sense in Scripture. (Mark 8; Gal. 5; 1 Cor. 5) On account of its different properties of infecting the thing with which it is mixed up, it is susceptible of a good or bad signification. Hence, it is taken sometimes, as here, in a good signification.

Which a woman took and hid.” It was the women that baked bread among the Jews (Lev. 26:26)

In three measures”—“in tribus satis.” What quantity each of these measures in question contained, we cannot precisely know, as we have no corresponding measures. It was the seah of the Jews, the third part of an epha, containing, probably, about ten pints, the ordinary quantity baked at a time (Gen. 18:6).

The scope of the parable is to convey, that as the leaven, however small in quantity, affects the entire mass of the flour with which it is mixed, and fermenting the dough by its activity, makes it rise and become more savoury, so as to become wholesome nutriment for man; so, in like manner, the Gospel doctrine, however humble in its accompaniments, preached by a few fishermen, and embraced at first by only the lowly and the humble, shall, by its occult power, change and ferment the entire world, or whole human race, and, imbuing them with its own nature, and filling them with the love of God, shall make them fit subjects for heaven. As the preceding parable denoted the external and visible effects of the Gospel on the hearts of men; so does this, most probably, denote its internal and invisible effects, its fermentation and the active love of God, which it produces in the heart of man.

By the “woman,” referred to here, St. Jerome understands, the Church gathered from all nations. St. Augustine (Lib. 1, quest. Evan.), the power and wisdom of God.

34. “Spoke in parables,” to which Mark adds (4:33), “according as they were able to hear,” which, by some, is understood to mean, according as they were worthy of instruction. For, as the Scribes and Pharisees listened solely with the view of catching Him in His words; He, therefore, on account of their unworthiness, spoke to them in an obscure way; otherwise, they would have derived detriment, rather than profit, from His words, and would have treated them disrespectfully. This is in accordance with verse 12.

Others give the words a favourable interpretation. He accommodates Himself to the capacity of the simple people, by proposing, under the images of things with which they were conversant in their daily course of life, His abstruse doctrines, which they could not otherwise comprehend; and this form of conveying ideas in parables would stimulate the people to seek, from competent persons, the meaning of what they heard. According to this interpretation, another reason is assigned for the use of parables, quite different from that assigned verse 12.

And without parables He did not speak to them,” may mean, that, generally speaking, parabolic language was mixed up with all the addresses of our Redeemer to the multitude; or the words may mean, that, on that occasion, at that time, He did not speak to them except in parables. For, on many other occasions, He discoursed to them in the simplest literal language. St. Mark says, “but apart He explained all things to His disciples,” as if to show, that all things our Redeemer then spoke to the multitude were in parables, requiring explanation, which was given to the disciples. In truth, parabolic language was not the mode of instruction ordinarily employed by our Redeemer.

35. The result of our Redeemer’s addressing the people in parables was: that He fulfilled, and verified what was spoken by the Prophet mystically in his sacred Person. The Prophet, while primarily referring to the events recorded in the Psalm, represented Christ, and spoke, in His Person, in a mystical and still more recondite sense—the sense principally intended by the Holy Ghost—of the great blessings bestowed on the human race by the Gospel and the great work of Redemption.

I will open my mouth,” a Hebrew form, for, “I will speak,” denoting, at the same time, some obscure and important subject, “in parables.” “I will utter things hidden from the foundation,” &c. The Septuagint of Psalm 77, to which reference is made, runs thus: “I shall utter PROBLEMS from the beginning.” The Hebrew has, “I shall utter enigmata (chidoth) from of old.” The words, problems and enigmata, which the Vulgate renders “propositiones,” have their meaning well conveyed in our version, “things hidden;” for, both problems and enigmata, and parables, agree in this: that they contain and suggest some obscure and latent meaning besides what the words literally express; and, then, “from the beginning,” is well expressed in the words, “from the foundation of the world.” These mysteries of grace and glory, revealed by Christ to His Church, were known to but few from creation. This is well expressed by the Apostle (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1).

The 77th Psalm, whoever was its author, whether spoken, in the first instance, in the person of David himself, or in that of Asaph, in its primary and literal sense, commemorated the benefits of God bestowed on the Hebrew people, “from the beginning,” from the first time He set them apart as His chosen inheritance, and from their egress out of Egypt—which is specially mentioned in this Psalm (vv. 12, 13)—to the time of David himself. This was done with the view of inspiring them with feelings of love and gratitude to God. But, in their mystical and more recondite sense—the sense principally intended by the Holy Ghost—the Psalm referred to the great benefits conferred by our Blessed Lord—of whom the Prophet exhibited a type—in the New Law, and to the chief features of His providential dealings with the human race. Indeed, it may be said, that, as “all things happened”—that ancient people—“in figure” (1 Cor. 10:6), the events recorded in Psalm 77 and the blessings there commemorated, from their egress out of Egypt, to the days of David, were so many types of the blessings conferred on the spiritual Israel of the New Law; and in recording these, the Prophet or Psalmist announced parables, in the general acceptation of the term.

36. He returned to His house at Capharnaum, which He left that day for the purpose of proceeding to the sea side. “The parable of the cockle in the field,” was the most abstruse, and contained the heaviest menaces. Hence, this is mentioned in particular.

37–43 This passage has been already explained after verso 30 (which see).

44. “The kingdom of heaven,” or, doctrine of the Gospel, “is like unto a treasure hidden in a field,” like unto such valuable effects as men bury in the bowels of the earth in troubled times, for greater security. “He goeth,” that is, cautiously leaves it hidden, as he found it, or hides and conceals the fact of his having found it, “and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field.”

As the preceding parables point out the force and efficacy of the Gospel doctrine, this parable of “the treasure,” and the following, of “the pearls,” show the priceless value of the same doctrine. In both parables, we are reminded of the great sacrifices we are called upon to make, if necessary, to secure the incomparable advantage of being sharers in the blessing of the Gospel, compared with which all the goods and acquisitions of this transitory world are but dross and ordure (Phil. 3:7–8). “He hideth,” in reference to the Gospel privileges, signifies, that the man in question employs every possible means to guard against the loss of this priceless blessing. “And buys that field.” By the Jewish law, a treasure belonged by right to the actual proprietor of the soil. To this, these words are allusive.

45, 46. (Seventh Parable.) Unlike the preceding parable, wherein, a man is supposed, without any exertions of his own, to have unexpectedly fallen in with a treasure, which God in His goodness made known to him, in this parable of the pearls, are insinuated the difficulties, the dangers and the perils which the merchant had to encounter in order to find the Gospel truth. If necessary, everything is to be sacrificed for it. “He sold all that he had and bought it.” Qui non renunciaverit omnibus quæ possidet non potest esse meus discipulus.” We frequently find the truths of God compared to the most valuable of human acquisitions, viz., pearls and precious stones, “desiderabilia super aurum et lapidem pretiosum.” “Dilexi mandata tua super aurum et topazion,” &c.

47. (Eighth Parable.) “The kingdom of heaven,” the Gospel doctrine, or, probably, the Church militant here below, “is like to a net (a drag net) cast into the sea.” The Church is cast into this troubled, boisterous, stormy world, in which men are daily exposed and shipwrecked.

And gathering together of all kinds of fishes.” In the Church are found every description of persons, whether bond or free, rich or poor, from every quarter of the globe—saints and sinners—not that any are saints before entering the Church, as the fishes are good before caught in the net. The Parable is not, in this respect, to be urged aa vivum; it only is meant, that in the net, after they have entered it, are found good and bad, saints and sinners.

48. “When filled.” When at the end of the world, “the fulness of the Gentiles shall have entered.” This parable exhibits the capacity and amplitude—the Catholicity of the Church—as the net, the whole Church, takes in the entire world. The parable was introduced for the twofold purpose of removing any grounds of surprise at seeing sinners and wicked men in the Church; as even in the best constituted kingdoms we find thieves, murderers, &c.; and of cautioning us against feeling too secure, because we are members of the Church, which includes sinners as well as saints, reprobates as well as elect.

NOTE.—Of the preceding parables, some are said to be spoken before the crowd (v. 36). Hence, it is inferred by certain commentators, that the others were not; and that they were spoken privately before the disciples. By other commentators, it is supposed that all were spoken in immediate succession and at the same time. There is no satisfactory evidence for supposing, that some were spoken privately, and some publicly before the multitudes.

51. Our Redeemer proposes this question, in order that the answer He was sure to receive would furnish a fitting opportunity of imparting the following points of instruction.

52. “Therefore,” as you understand the things I have spoken, I wish you to bury them up in your hearts and intellects, so that as learned teachers, you may give them utterance in due time, and not keep them within yourselves. I wish, then, to inform you, that “every Scribe,” that is, teacher versed in the law, “instructed in the kingdom of heaven,” or, as the Greek has it, “INTO THE kingdom of heaven” instructed for teaching and preaching the mysteries and truths relating to the kingdom of heaven. He uses the word “scribe,” when speaking of an Evangelical teacher, in accordance with the language of the Jews. “Is like to a householder,” a provident householder, who produces from his stores all kinds of food and viands, new and old, to suit and satisfy the palate and appetite of his several guests.

The preacher of the Gospel must, then, be prepared to employ examples of all sorts, taken both from the Old Testament and the New; and bring to bear varied knowledge, derived from all legitimate sources, cultivated and perfected by daily meditation and spiritual exercises, in instructing the people. He is sure to make an ever-lasting impression, if he elucidate and confirm his teaching, and make abstract truths almost tangible by examples derived from the New Testament, and prefigured by the Old, as also by the judicious selections of examples drawn from the lives of the saints. There is hardly any point so important for preachers, as the judicious use of appropriate examples. Our Redeemer wishes to stimulate His Apostles to follow the example of preaching which He Himself had set them.

53. “From thence,” that is, from His house at Capharnaum, where He resided and delivered the preceding explanations to His disciples.

54. “And coming into His own country.” St. Luke (4:16) says, it was Nazareth, where He was brought up, and, moreover, it was only at Nazareth the people knew His former occupation, habits of life, family and relatives (v. 55). The order of narrative followed by St. Matthew is preferred by many commentators. Others (among them St. Augustine), follow the order of St. Mark (4), Luke (8), both of whom inform us, that after proposing the preceding parable to the multitude, our Redeemer passed into the country of the Gerasens; and St. Mark (4:35) says, that “on that day, when evening was come, He said: Let us pass over to the other side.” However, it may be said in reply, by the advocates of the former opinion, that from St. Mark (4:10) it is clear, the twelve Apostles were with Him, when He spoke the parables. Now, Matthew—one of the twelve—was not called, till after He crossed over to the country of the Gerasens, as appears from Matthew (8 and 9) Hence, the parables were not uttered till after that event, and the words of St. Mark, just quoted, “that day,” will only mean, as St. Luke has it, “on a certain day” (8:22), or about that time, in illo tempore.

St. Luke (4), according to St. Augustine, narrates, by anticipation, the arrival of our Lord at Nazareth, as is clear from the words, “quanta audivimus facta in Capharnaum” (4:23), whereas, at this time He performed no miracles at Capharnaum or anywhere else. Hence, St. Luke records this event by anticipation, because the prophecy read by him in the synagogue from Isaias (Luke 4:18), perfectly accorded with the descent of the Holy Ghost upon him, which St. Luke records as having occurred previously (3:22), and indeed, it was a fitting preparation for the work of preaching the Gospel, which St. Luke commences to narrate.

He taught them in their synagogues.” Luke (4:17), says He explained the prophecy of Isaias (41:17). “Synagogues,” the plural for the singular; as it is most likely, there was only one synagogue at Nazareth. Or, it might mean, that He taught each Sabbath at their synagogue meetings.

Wisdom,” shown in His eloquence and reasoning. “Miracles.” St. Mark says (6:5), He wrought some miracles among them, but, “not many,” as we are told here (verse 58). “Wisdom,” in what He said. “Power,” in what He did.

55. “Carpenter’s son?” Jesus was reputed to be the son of Joseph. He is Himself called a carpenter. “Is not this the carpenter?” (Mark 6:3) The Greek for “carpenter,” τεκτων, simply means, a craftsman, or workman, whether in wood, iron, gold, &c. But, the common opinion has always been, that St. Joseph was a carpenter, a worker in wood. Hence, Theodoret relates (Lib. iii. c. 8), that on a certain Sophist, Libanius, scornfully asking a pious Christian of his day, “what the carpenter’s son was doing?” he received for answer, “He is making a coffin for Julian.” The wretched imperial apostate wanted it soon after. Transfixed mortally, by an arrow of a flying Parthian, he was obliged to cry out in despair, “Vicisti Galilee.” His coffin was finished. It is likely, our Lord Himself had worked in holy Joseph’s workshop, during the thirty years of His hidden life at Nazareth. Hence, the Nazarites question, “Is not this the carpenter,” and “the carpenter’s son?”

And His brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude.” “His brethren”—the children of Mary of Cleophas, sister of the Blessed Virgin, were, according to the usual style of Scripture, called “brethren,” that is, cousins or near relations, of the Redeemer.

St. Mark has it (6:3), “Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joseph, and Jude, and Simon?” Now, these brethren of our Lord were not, by any means, the sons of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph; but the sons of a certain Cleophas, by another Mary. For James, one of the four, is called James of Alpheus (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18); and their mother is called “Mary, the mother of James (the less), and Joseph” (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40). The same Mary is called, Mary of Cleophas (John 19:25). Hence, it is clear the “brethren” of our Lord are His cousins or relations. Thus, Lot, Abraham’s nephew, is called “his brother” (Gen. 13:8), and Laban, Jacob’s uncle, is called his brother also (Gen. 29:15).

56. “His sisters,” either on the side of Joseph, His reputed father, or of His mother. That they were poor, and unable to impart any learning or power to our Lord, is here manifestly insinuated. Hence, the question, “Whence therefore hath He all these things?” Mary, the mother of these “brethren,” who was sister, that is, cousin of the Blessed Virgin, is called “Mary of Cleophas” (John 19), by which some understand, the daughter of Cleophas; others, the wife of Cleophas. Of these latter, some maintain, that this Mary was twice married, first to Alpheus, of whom she conceived James and Joseph—hence, James is called, “of Alpheus”—and after his death, to Cleophas, of whom she conceived Simon and Jude (St. Thomas). Others say, that Alpheus and Cleophas referred to the same person, both names being derived from the same common Hebrew root. (Vide Patrizzi, Lib. iii. ix. 13)

Some commentators think that Alpheus was brother of St. Joseph, in which case, these would be “brethren,” or cousins of our Redeemer on His reputed father’s side as well as on His mother’s side. In SS. Scripture, the words, brother and sister, a taken in a very extended sense (as above). The Blessed Virgin, according to tradition, was the only child of Joachim and Anne. Hence, Mary, the mother of these, was not her sister, as some would fain have it. St. John Damascene speaks of St. Anne as having been for a long time barren; and like Anna, the mother of Samuel, of having obtained by prayer the daughter who gave birth to the Son of God. It was by no means customary among the Jews to call two sisters by the same name. Hence, apart from other reasons, the utter improbability, that Mary of Cleophas was sister of the Blessed Virgin by Joachim and Anne. (See Patrizzi, Lib. iii. c. ix)

57. “Scandalized in His regard.” They took occasion of offence and unbelief from the lowness of His extraction, His humble occupation, the poverty of His relatives, &c. They knew He never learned letters. “How can this man know letters, having never learned?” (John 8) Hence, their unbelief, their spiritual ruin, and reprobation, “They were scandalized.”

A prophet is not without honour,” &c. This was a celebrated adage, common among the Jews. Though generally true, it sometimes admits of exceptions, as in the case of John the Baptist, Isaias, Elias, Daniel, &c., who were honoured by their countrymen. It is, however, generally true, for which various reasons are assigned: such as the jealous feelings of envy among one’s fellow citizens; again, familiarity is apt to beget contempt, both from a close inspection of human imperfections, and also, because what is foreign, and what comes from afar, is more apt to be prized and admired by mankind, than what is domestic and easily procured.

58. “And He wrought not many miracles,” &c. Our Redeemer was wont to work miracles to confirm the faith of those who believed and sought for them, but not to gratify the curiosity of the incredulous. On this account it was, that He wrought so few miracles among the people of Nazareth, on account of their scornful and obstinate unbelief. Hence, St. Mark (6:5), “He could not do any miracles there, only that He cured a few,” &c., meaning, that He did not wish to work miracles; and, that it was not meet for Him to do so, as they had not faith; and, such miracles would only add to their responsibility, and deepen their damnation. Hence, in His mercy. He refrained from performing wonders among them.

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