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

In this chapter, St. Mark records the Parable of the Sower, and its explanation by our Lord, together with the reason assigned by Him for addressing the multitude in parables (1–20). He addresses to them other parables (21–35). He stills the tempest at sea (36–40).

1. The event recorded here occurred, according to St. Matthew (13:1), on the same day, or on the evening of the same day, with the occurrences mentioned in the preceding chapter.

And He began again,” &c., has reference to what is stated (1:16; 2:13; 3:9), where our Lord is said to have already on several occasions taught by the sea shore. It is clear, from this verse, that our Lord first taught on the sea shore, but the crowd became so great, and pressed so inconveniently, that He was forced to get into a boat, out of which, as from a pulpit, He delivered His heavenly doctrines. It is likely this occurred at seed time, which suggested the following parable. Patrizzi and others say, that this took place after the Feast of Tabernacles, in the year 28.

2. (See Matt. 13:3, &c.)

3. This parable of the sower, and the other parables referred to in this chapter, which have for object, to illustrate what appertains to “the kingdom of heaven,” have a very natural connexion with the teaching of our Redeemer in the preceding, regarding the will of God, and the observance of His precepts. Our Lord wishes to convey, that the mere hearing of His Word, the mere receiving of this Divine seed will not suffice. He Himself afterwards interprets the parable. (14, 15, &c.)

4–9. (See Matt. 13:3–10).

10. St. Matthew (13) states, that our Lord spoke before the people the other parables too, recorded (vv. 26–32); and after that, having sent away the crowds, came home (v. 36). And as St. Mark informs us in this chapter (v. 34), that our Lord was wont to explain the parables to His disciples “apart,” when He was alone, it would then seem to follow, that our Lord explained the foregoing parable of the sower, after He had spoken the other parables publicly to the multitudes (vv. 26–32). Hence, in order of time, the intervening verses, between verses 10 and 20, should be placed after v. 34, and from verses 26–34 inserted between verses 9 and 10.

10–20. (See Matt. 13:10–24).

The twelve that were with Him.” This is the constant reading of all Latin versions. The Greek and Syriac versions have, “they that were about Him with the twelve,” which is understood by Euthymius, to refer to the seventy-two disciples, as well as to the twelve Apostles.

11. “To them that are without,” the multitude and such as were not among our Lord’s constant attendants in the work of the ministry, referred to in the preceding verse (see Matt. 13:11), and the words apply particularly to such among them as did not wish, or did not care to believe the truths proposed by our Lord.

All things are done in parables.” All the truths appertaining to “the kingdom of God” are obscure, and veiled from their eyes, by a just judgment of God withholding His lights and graces, in punishment of their contumacy and malice, and especially, their abuse of grace. “To them it is not given” (Matt. 13:11).

12. St. Mark only briefly quotes the sense, but not the express words of the prophecy of Isaias (Matt. 13:14, 15). “That,” does not express the end or final motive which our Lord had in view in speaking to them in parables; but only the effect. It is the same as, “so that.” The consequence of it is, that in their regard is verified the prophecy of Isaias. Hence, in St. Matthew, it is ὅτι, “because seeing they see not,” &c. St. Matthew describes the state of obstinate incredulity in which our Lord found the Jews, BECAUSE seeing they see not,” &c. St. Mark and St. Luke describe the condition of still greater obstinacy and credulity into which they were permitted to fall deeper and deeper in punishment of their sins, “THAT, seeing they may not see,” &c., by rendering themselves unworthy of having their spiritual blindness taken away. The words of St. Mark, “lest at any time” (μηποτε, nequando), denotes liberty and free will. For, with the aid of God, which He denies to no one, a man can become converted. However, on account of the obstacles which their own malice oppose to the operation of grace, many are never converted. Those who are without, perceive not what they see, and understand not what they hear, and thus through their own fault they, in some measure, oppose their own conversion and the remission of their sins. Our Lord fully quoted the prophecy of Isaias, as we are informed by St. Matthew (13:14, 15), of which the sense is here briefly given by St. Mark.

13. In order to excite their attention, He reprehends them for their slowness of understanding “this parable,” so easy and intelligible. “How, then.” The Greek, και πως, the force of then or therefore, as in c. 10:26, και τις δυναται, &c., “Who, then, can be saved?” Also, Luke 12:29; 1 Cor. 5:13. “All parables,” other parables, so obscure and hard to be understood.

21. “He said to them,” that is, the disciples, as appears from the continuous account given by St. Luke (8:16). “Doth a candle come in?” Is a candle brought forward into a chamber or used?

This similitude is recorded by St. Matthew (c. 5:15), as spoken in the Sermon on the Mount. Very likely, He employed the same as being a trite, well-known proverb on more occasions than one, and on the present occasion among the rest.

There is a diversity of opinion among commentators about the connexion of this passage with what precedes. For, although the proverb regarding the light and candlestick be recorded on a different occasion by St. Matthew, viz., when delivering the Sermon on the Mount (c. 5:15); both St. Mark, here, and St. Luke (8:16, &c.), record these words as spoken immediately in connexion with the explanation given by our Lord to His disciples, of the parable of the sower. It is observed by some commentators, that possibly it may have no connexion with the preceding; that our Redeemer may have employed well-known proverbs and parables to illustrate His teachings on subjects quite unconnected with each other. Commentators, in tracing a connexion with the preceding, differ in their views. Some, understanding the words not so much of the Apostles and the preachers of God’s Word, as of its hearers in general, say our Redeemer’s object is, to inculcate, by a new illustration, the same thing conveyed in the preceding parable of the sower, viz., the necessity of bringing forth due fruit, after hearing the Word of God. The Word of God is not only a seed, it is also a light to guide our steps, and point out what we are to do, and what to avoid, thus to enable us to bring forth the fruit of good works in proper measure, by the aid of Divine grace, which it teaches us to ask from the Great Source of light and strength. These explain the words of v. 22, as containing a reason why they should correspond with the light, and produce the works of light; because, in the truths contained in God’s Word, there is nothing hidden which is not to shine forth. Nor is there anything prescribed by it, which should be kept hidden or private, but rather, it all bears to be exhibited in open light. “Their light should so shine forth before men, as to glorify their Father, who is in heaven.” The following vv. 23, 24, 25, are also interpreted in this sense, to mean, that according to their measure of correspondence with Divine grace (v. 24), and the degree of merit they thus acquire, will be the degree of glory they will receive hereafter, or the increase of the gifts of grace and light conferred on them, even in this life. He that makes good use of the graces and gifts bestowed on him here, shall receive still more as the reward of this correspondence, “he that hath,” &c.; whereas, those who make not good use of the gifts and graces they received, “and he that hath not,” &c. (a man may be said not to have what he turns to no account), even the graces and supernatural lights they had, and abused or misused, shall be taken from them. Nay, they shall be deprived of the natural gifts themselves, in punishment of their perversity, and handed over to a reprobate sense. (St. Chrysostom, Theophylact, Euthymius, Maldonatus, &c.)

Others, with St. Jerome, Ven. Bede, &c., while tracing a connexion with the foregoing, understand the passage to refer to the Apostles and the future preachers of God’s Word, and explain it thus: Our Lord had already told His disciples, that to them “it was given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God,” but not “to them that are without” (v. 11). This He now fully explains, by saying, that while He spoke in enigmas to the incredulous Jews, He did not mean that the knowledge, given to His disciples, of the kingdom of God, in the explanation of His parable, should be kept in private, but, that rather it was to be like a candle, giving light to all in the house, and that they should, one day, proclaim His truths aloud, so as to roach all who were in the house, that is, the Holy Church of God. The words of v. 21, “And He said to them,” viz., the disciples, would add great probability to this latter interpretation. In St. Matthew (13:52), our Lord would seem to treat of the same argument as in these verses, only that in St. Matthew He speaks of the duty of the Evangelical workman to preach zealously and fully; here He treats of the cause or reason, viz., because they should not keep the light, of which they are depositaries, concealed from view.

22. Everything He spoke to them in private was meant to be openly manifested, and to come forth into public view. It is to the Apostles, words similar to these are addressed on several occasions, but with a different object (Matt. 10:26, 27).

23. As destined one day to be the heralds of God’s truth, they should pay the greatest attention, so as fully to understand and comprehend what He spoke to them.

24. “To them,” i.e., the disciples, as is clear from Luke (8:18). The disciples should take care how they acquire a proper knowledge of the things which they are to preach to others hereafter. Hence, in Luke (8:18) He says, “therefore, take heed how you hear,” implying, that as they are to make known what they learned from Him in private, they should consider the duty imposed upon them to understand Him, so as to discharge this duty well, which is followed by an abundant reward, if well discharged; and by punishment arid withdrawal of graces, if neglected, or performed carelessly and unprofitably (Luke 8:18). Here, St. Mark conveys, that in proportion to the degree and measure of zeal displayed by them in preaching the Gospel, will be their measure of merit and reward. If they show zeal, a diligence and energy in preaching His doctrine, “in declaring all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), they shall receive an exceeding great reward; if, on the other hand, slothful or indifferent, they shall be punished, “qui parce seminat, parce et metet.”

Some expositors understand this verse (24) not of the zealous preaching of God’s Word (as above) but of zealous correspondence with God’s grace, of labour and attention in acquiring an accurate knowledge of God’s will and of revealed and heavenly truth. Such men will merit to have still greater knowledge and light imparted to them. On the other hand, if they fail to correspond, the graces which they had shall be taken away from them.

25. The latter interpretation accords well with the meaning of the proverb expressed in this verse, “that hath,” uses it, turns it to good account—to him greater gifts shall be given, if we understand it of the preachers of God’s Word—then to such a suitable reward shall be given. But, as regards him “that hath not,” who makes no use of it, and has it, as if he had it not; then, the lights and graces he abuses or turns to no account, shall be taken from him; he shall be delivered up to a reprobate sense, and his foolish heart hardened. If understood of preaching, as most likely it ought; then, the words mean, the man who zealously and abundantly preaches God’s Word, shall be blessed with still greater knowledge of Divine truth.

26. This parable is found in St. Mark only. Its scope or object is, to show the mode in which the Apostolical preaching fructifies, and also to convey, that where the preacher of the Gospel scatters the seed, he does his part. He has only to plant and water; from God comes the fruit or increase. He should not, therefore, take vain, foolish complacency in the success of his work; nor feel downcast or displeased should the seed he zealously committed to the earth, the Word of God which he zealously preached, not fructify in the hearts of his people. He has done his part by disseminating the Word, and zealously guarding it in the hearts of man; the rest is God’s, whose grace operates unseen and unfelt, and who rewards not according to the fruit—which is not ours—but according to the labour.

The kingdom of God,” the Church militant.

27. “Should sleep and rise, day and night,” refers to the man who cast the seed. The word, “sleep,” refers to night; and, “rise,” to day, as if He said, “should sleep by night, and rise by day,” which means, that, after committing the seed to the earth, he attends to the other ordinary concerns of life, without any further concern about the seed, or busying himself about it. The words, “sleep and rise,” convey the idea of unconcern, case, and security. This, in its application, does not imply, that after preaching the Word of God, the minister of the Gospel is not to watch carefully, lest the enemy should sow errors, and pluck the good seed. For, every part of the parable cannot be applied to the seemingly corresponding parts of the subject illustrated. It only conveys, that it is not to the exertions of the sower, the growth and fructification of the seed is owing, but to the power of nature fertilizing the earth, through the rains and dews of heaven. Moreover, the parable only expresses what ordinarily happens. There may be exceptions. As in the natural order, the seed must sometimes be watered by the husbandman, if the land be dry or sterile, so, also in regard to the subject of illustration, the preacher must sometimes look after the seed, and irrigate and tend the soil, when necessary. The interpretation which understands the words, “should sleep and rise, night and day,” of the seed which advances to maturity unobserved and unheeded, seems improbable. The Greek word, εγειρεται, could hardly apply to seed; αναβαινει, would be the proper word as applied to seed (as in verse 8). If the man who sowed the seed, be understood to refer to God; then, the application of the words, “sleep and rise,” need not be anxiously sought for. They might be regarded as merely ornamental in that case.

28. “The earth of itself bringeth forth fruit.” In this it is conveyed, that it is not to the exertions or labour of the sower the fruit is due, but to the natural producing powers of the soil, irrigated by the refreshing rains and dews of heaven; nor will the Word of God produce fruit in the hearers, unless their hearts are irrigated by God’s grace, nor should the preachers glory in their work. The fruit is God’s grace, wholly independent of any concern they may afterwards take about the progress of the seed.

The words, “blade,” “ear,” “full corn,” shows the order and progressive advancement which the hearers of God’s Holy Word makes, aided by God’s grace, towards the summit of Christian perfection.

29. “The fruit is brought forth.” When the fruit is fully mature, and its harvest ripeness arrived—which seems to be the meaning of the Greek, παραδω ὅ καρπος. This may be taken in a reflective sense, with εαυτον, “cum se produxerit fructus”—the predisposed fruit of the bliss of heaven.

This may refer to each of the elect at death, or to the General Judgment and final end of all things, when God will gather the good fruit into His granaries.

Immediately he putteth in the sickle,” refers to the sower of the seed, or Almighty God, when, by death, He shall close the life of His elect. He who scattered the seed of His heavenly word into the earth, through His preachers, shall mow down, through the ministry of His Angels.

30. (See Matt. 13:31, 32). The Church militant, or Gospel preaching. “The kingdom of heaven.” The Church is so designated, because it is the threshold of God’s heavenly kingdom, and prepares the way for it; and to reside in the Church of Christ, and under the Gospel precept, is, in some measure, to reign.

31. “Is less than all the seeds that are in the earth.” Although there are some seeds smaller than the “mustard seed,” the words of our Lord are verified according to the usual forms of expression employed by men, who, in speaking of what is small, called it the least, or a very small thing. It may also be said that the word, all, does not include everything of a species without exception. It is taken in a merely universal sense, as “omnes declinaverunt” (Psa. 13); “omnes quotquot venerunt fures sunt” (John 10:8). The strict meaning of all need not be urged in interpreting the passage. Cajetan interprets it: It was the least of all the seeds known in Judea at the time—επι της γης—of Judea. The quantity and kind of different seeds in different countries vary.

33. “To them,” i.e., the multitude. For, in verse 34 He distinguishes them from His disciples, to whom He explained the parables “apart.”

With many such parables.” In this St. Mark insinuates that he did not record all the parables spoken by our Divine Redeemer on this occasion. For, St. Matthew (13) records more than Mark or Luke, and possibly, Matthew himself, who is more diffuse, may have omitted some of the parables spoken by our Redeemer, and may not have recorded them all. For, St. John tells us that if all our Lord had done were written in detail, “the world itself would not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25).

According as they were able to hear,” is understood by some to mean, that our Lord, in the use of parables, drew His illustrations from things common and well-known to them, thus accommodating Himself to their capacity, so that, by understanding the subject matter of the parable, they might be stimulated to consider further the heavenly truths contained under them. Others give the words an opposite meaning—as they were able, i.e., worthy to hear. He spoke to the crowds in parables, i.e., obscurely and enigmatically, in punishment of their obstinate unbelief, lest, seeing they might see, or hearing they might understand. The words of next verse, “He explained all things to His disciples,” implying, that the things spoken were not understood till they were explained, would render this latter interpretation probable. As their pride and ingratitude rendered them incapable of hearing in a salutary way the truths He announced, He employed language suited to their dispositions, which rendered them unworthy of being clearly instructed, as the Apostles were, or of being blessed with the intelligence of the things spoken to them—a terrible punishment of past unbelief.

34. “And without parables,” &c. The meaning of the words is to be restricted to the present and other like occasions, when our Lord spoke to the multitude of the kingdom, and the institution of His Church. He then spoke in parables. But, at other times, He spoke many things plainly, as, for instance, when speaking on subjects of morals, as may be seen from the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 5, 6, 7)

All things apart to His disciples.” This, too, is to be understood restrictively. He explained obscure things about which they questioned Him. The Greek words, επελυε παντα, mean, he solved everything (obscure). From the words of St. Mark in these two verses, it seems clear, that from verse 26 to 34, should, in order of time, be placed between verses 2–10.

36. “Sending away the multitude,” i.e., leaving them on the shore, where they heard our Redeemer addressing them out of the boat, as from a pulpit (v. 1).

They take Him.” The disciples and sailors carry Him off without any delay, or without being under the necessity of taking Him into the ship. “Even as He was in the ship,” indicates His immediate departure, without disembarking or going on shore. Remaining as He was, instructing the multitude, He at once sets sail, without any preparation whatsoever.

And there were other ships with Him.” The Greek, μετ αυτοῦ, may mean, with his (ship), so that more than the disciples were witnesses of the following miracle of calming the tempest.

37. (See Matt. 8:24–27).

39. “Peace, be still.” The use of these almost synonymous terms, adds great force to the command, and indicates the great power and dignity displayed on the occasion.

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