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MATTHEW - Chapter 13

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Matthew 13

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS   3-25 (continued)

3.  Second Period of the Ministry in Galilee and Across its Lake  5, 1 -- 15, 20 (continued)

13, 1-23:  Parable of the Sower.  13, 1-52 forms the third of the five great discourses of Jesus in the First Gospel.  It consists of seven parables, the explanation of two of these, and other words about the reason for such a method of teaching.  Since all but the first parable begin with the words, "The kingdom of heaven is like . . . ," this discourse is commonly known as "The Parables of the Kingdom."  In the corresponding sermon in the Second Gospel Mark (4, 1-34) gives only two of these parables, but he has an extra one peculiar to himself.  Luke (8, 4-18) has but one parable on this occasion, but he records to others of Matthew's seven on another occasion (Luke 13, 18-21).  This discourse in the First Gospel may therefore be a partially artificial arrangement; still it would seem from Mark 4, 33 f that on this day in particular Jesus "spoke many such parables."

1-3a.  The setting.  All three Gospels agree that this discourse was spoken to great crowds gathered about him.  The sloping shore offered a natural auditorium, while the water kept the crowd from pressing too closely around the Master.  For other occasions on which Jesus taught from a boat anchored near the shore, cf. Mark 3, 9; Luke 5, 3.  See article on The Parables of the Gospels.

3-9.  The Parable of the Sower.  Parallels in Mark 4, 3-9 and Luke 8, 5-8.  From the context, the seed which the sower went out to sow, is obviously grain.  The commonest grain in Palestine was barley, but wheat, rye and other grains were known.    4.  Some seed fell by the wayside: this is the literal translation of the Greek and Latin in all three Gospels.  But in Aramaic the same expression, literally "along the road," means both "by the side of the road" and "on the road."  The latter sense is clearly demanded here, for the seed "was trodden under foot" (Luke) and it fell to the ravages of the birds more readily than that which sunk into the soft ploughed earth.    5.  Rocky ground means the place where there are only a few inches of soil above the bed-rock.  In such ground the rain does not seep away so quickly and therefore the seed that fell there sprang up at once.    7.  Thorns are plentiful in the more arid parts of Palestine and their seeds, blown on the arable land, are a constant source of trouble for the farmer (cf. Gen. 3, 18).    8.  Some parts of Palestine, when given the proper care, are very fertile.

10-15.  Why Jesus taught in parables.  Parallels in Mark 4, 10-12 and Luke 8, 9 f.    11.  The very expression the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven implies that there is something hidden and secret about these truths.  God reveals them to whom He will (cf. Col. 1, 26 f).    12. This verse is given in Mark 4, 25 and Luke 8, 18b after the explanation of the parable of The Sower; cf. also Matt. 25, 29; Luke 19, 26.  Even that which he has shall be taken away: i.e., "even that which he seems to have" (25, 29).  See note to the text.    13-15.  Matthew alone cites in full the words of Isa. 6, 9 f.  He quotes the Septuagint text exactly.  These words of the prophet are important in explaining the failure of the Jews to recognize Jesus as the Messias and are therefore cited frequently in the New Testament.  Cf. John 12, 40; Acts 28, 26 f; Rom. 11, 8; cf. also John 9, 39 ff; 2 Cor. 3, 14.  The natural purpose of a parable is to make clearer the doctrine which it illustrates.  But without the key to its moral it may often be obscure in itself.  Christ therefore chose this form of teaching in order that the people who were not yet well disposed, might not grasp the full import of His teaching, while those who were well disposed, as the Apostles, might understand it.  However, this is not to be considered so much as a punishment directly intended by God but rather as the natural consequence of the rejection of the sufficient light which all the Jews received from God.  On the purpose of the parables, see article on The Parables of the Gospels.  Hearing you will hear, but not understand, etc.: a Hebrew idiom meaning, "Even though you hear, you will not understand; and even though you see, you will not perceive."  The heart of this people has been hardened: in Hebrew, "has become fatty," i.e., insensible, dull, slow to perceive.    16 f.  The disciples' privilege in learning these mysteries.  Only in Matthew here, but the same words are given in Luke 10, 23 f after the words about the revelation of the Father and of the Son.

18-23.  Explanation of the Parable of the Sower.  Parallels in Mark 4, 13-20 and Luke 8, 11-15.  "The seed is the word of God" (Luke).  The sower is therefore Christ, and the different types of soil upon which the seed falls are the different kinds of men.  Therefore when Christ speaks of the different seeds as the different kinds of men, the wording is not to be pressed too strictly.  Such loose construction is common is the parables (cf. Commentary on 11, 17).  Our Lord distinguishes four different types of souls to whom the word of God is preached.  (a) The unreceptive type upon whom the word makes hardly any impression, he does not understand it; he is like the trodden path on which the seed cannot sink in.  It is easy for the devil to make him soon forget all about it.  (b) The enthusiastic but shallow and unstable type.  His soul is like the fertile but shallow soil upon the rock.  (c) The man who in himself possesses the proper dispositions for spiritual growth but is prevented from producing fruit because of external circumstances, i.e., the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, the great spiritual danger that Christ warned His disciples against in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. 6, 19-34).  Such a man is like the soil that is good in itself but encumbered with thornbushes.  (d) The good man who is free from all three obstacles just mentioned.  Like the good earth he bears fruit according to his capacity.

13, 24-30:  The Weeds.  Only in Matthew.  If this discourse of Christ consisted of several parables, as seems probable, then all of them were delivered consecutively and only after the sermon to the people did Christ explain these parables privately to the Apostles.  But evidently the original oral gospel inserted the explanation of the parable of The Sower immediately after the parable itself; Matthew follows this order even though it interrupts the discourse as such.  This Evangelist also gives Christ's explanation of the parable of The Weeds, but in this case the explanation is postponed till after the discourse in correct chronological order (36-43).  However, for the sake of convenience the explanation will be treated here in conjunction with the parable itself.  The story itself is clear and simple.  However, it is important to note that the weeds of the parable are not just any kind of undesirable growth among the wheat but a definite species of weed is named, the zizanium, a kind of wild wheat, known variously as cockle, tare, or darnel, which can hardly be distinguished from true wheat until its ears of grain ripen.  Therefore, even though these weeds undoubtedly hinder the proper growth of the wheat, to try to root them out would do more harm than good, not so much because the roots of the weeds might be entwined with those of the wheat but because the servants of the householder might not know how to distinguish the weeds from the wheat and wrongly root up the latter.  It is necessary to wait until the harvest time; only then will both the weeds and the wheat receive their due treatment.  This is clearly the main point of the story and therefore also the principal lesson intended by Christ in His explanation of the parable (36-43).  Nevertheless, various secondary details of the story receive their proper interpretation from Christ, all in keeping with the leading thought.  Hence we may learn from His manner of interpreting His parables that, while each parable has only one main idea, many of the details of the parables also are to be understood symbolically, but always as part of the principal thought.  On the other hand, however, many details of the parables are merely added to make the story interesting.  To see in every detail an allegorical meaning would be excessive and beyond Christ's intention.  Although our Lord says in His explanation of this parable that the field is the world, the parable is not directly concerned with the general problem of evil in the world but rather with the special problem of evil in his kingdom (41).

The parable is prophetic, viewing all future ages of the kingdom until the end of the world (40).  The Son of Man is the householder, the Lord of the kingdom, who commands not only his servants who labor in His kingdom but also His angels, the reapers.  In His kingdom are not only good men, the sons of the kingdom, but also wicked men, who work iniquity and cause scandals, i.e., cause the good to stumble.  The kingdom is therefore the Church, a visible society of good and evil men.  Elsewhere He foretold that not every branch on His vine would be good (cf. John 15, 1-6).  But it is not His fault that the members of His kingdom do not always live up to His high ideals.  For while men were asleep, Satan, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.  These evil men therefore have only the appearance of belonging to His kingdom; they are really the sons of the wicked one.  But the servants of Christ cannot know the dispositions of men's hearts; hence they cannot always distinguish the weeds from the wheat.  It is right for them to root out the thorns and thistles, to excommunicate the obviously unworthy, but the weeds must continue to grow with the wheat until the harvest.  Only then will justice be done to both the good and the wicked.  The just shall shine forth as the sun (cf. Wisd. 3, 7; Dan. 12, 3), for their true merits are now hidden (cf. Col. 3, 3 f).  This will be in the kingdom of their Father, for this blessedness was prepared for them by the Father (cf. 25, 34) and at the consummation Christ "delivers the kingdom to God the Father" (1 Cor. 15, 24).

13, 31-35:  The Mustard Seed and the Leaven.    31 f.  The parable of The Mustard Seed.  Parallels in Mark 4, 30-32 and Luke 13, 18 f.  The mustard seed is not, absolutely speaking, the smallest of all seeds; but it is so in popular estimation and as such was often used as a proverbial figure of something very small (cf. 17, 19).  There are various kinds of mustard plants.  The one referred to here is a fast growing annual herb.  It becomes a tree: i.e., it grows as large as a tree.  Under this image Christ foretells the marvelous growth of the Church, from its small lowly beginnings to the vast society it was soon to become.  The birds of the air come and dwell in its branches, "beneath its shade" (Mark), i.e., mankind finds spiritual refuge in the Church.    33.  The parable of The Leaven.  Parallel in Luke 13, 20 f, where it is also joined to the parable of The Mustard Seed.  The preceding parable stressed the external growth of the Church.  This parable emphasizes its intrinsic vivifying force.  Just as a small quantity of leaven or yeast soon penetrates a large batch of dough, so the seemingly insignificant teaching of Christ, "the mysterious, hidden wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 2, 7), soon makes its benign influence felt throughout the whole world.  It is true that "leaven" is considered elsewhere as the symbol of the influence of evil (cf. 16, 6; 1 Cor. 5, 6 ff; Gal. 5, 9), but that is no reason for rejecting the traditional and obvious interpretation of this parable.  Three measures, literally "three seahs" i.e., one ephah, the usual batch of dough (cf. Gen. 18, 6; Jdgs. 6, 19; 1 Sam. 1, 24).  One ephah was the equivalent of a little more than a bushel.

34 f.  The Evangelist's first conclusion to this discourse.  Parallel in Mark 4, 33 f.    34.  Without parables he did not speak to them: the sense is either that on this particular day Christ's discourse consisted solely of parables, or that all His teaching was combined with parables.    35.  Only in Matthew.  The quotation is from Ps. 77, 2.  This Psalm was written by Asaph the Seer, therefore correctly called by Matthew the prophet.  Asaph reviews the history of Israel and sees in it hidden lessons for the people of his time which he presents in the form of enigmatic sayings or "parables."  So also the parables of Christ contain the hidden truths of the mysteries of the kingdom (cf. also Col. 1, 26).

13, 36-43:  Explanation of the Parable of the Weeds.  See Commentary on 13, 24-30.

13, 44-46:  The Treasure and the Pearl.  Only in Matthew.  These two parables together with the following parable of The Net were apparently spoken to the Apostles alone after they had entered the house (cf. 36); but possibly Matthew intended these three parables as part of the discourse to the people, but added them here as an afterthought.    44.  Hoards of gold, jewels, etc., have often been hidden in the earth in times of danger.  Evidently according to the Palestinian laws of that time the mere finding of such a cache did not entitle the finder to it unless he also owned the property where it was.  This hidden treasure is the kingdom of heaven.  He who discovers its great worth gladly renounces all else to possess it.    45 f.  The kingdom of heaven is also a pearl of great price.  Its possession is likewise worth every sacrifice.  In general therefore these two parables point the  same moral.  But in the first parable the treasure is found accidentally; in the second, the pearl is found only after diligent search.

13, 47-50:  Parable of the Net.  Only in Matthew.  In the story, the net is the "drag-net," a very long net used near the shore; the bad fish are the inedible fish that have no market value.  The moral is the same as that of the parable of The Weeds: in the kingdom, the Church, there are both bad and good men; their final separation and retribution is made only at the end of the world.  Since the Apostles were called to be fishers of men (cf. 4, 19), they are not to be discouraged if some of the men whom their preaching brings to the kingdom, are not good men.

13, 51 f:  Conclusion.  Only in Matthew.  This is really the second conclusion to this discourse; cf. 34.  Even this conclusion is in the form of a little parable.  Just as a householder bring forth from his storeroom things new and old, so every Scribe, i.e., the scholar and teacher, who is an expert in the doctrine of the kingdom of heaven knows how to unite the teachings of the Old and of the New Dispensation and knows how to present the old, eternal truths in a new attractive form, as Christ did by means of the parables.

13, 53-58:  Jesus at Nazareth.  Parallel in Mark 6, 1-6a and partial parallel in Luke 4, 16-30.  The first two Evangelists agree in placing this scene towards the close of the Galilean ministry.  Luke places it at the very beginning of this ministry.  All three Evangelists agree in giving a twofold reaction on the part of the Nazarenes: (a) they are amazed at His wisdom; (b) because of their knowledge of His relatives and of His previous life among them, they refuse to believe in Him and consequently He cannot work miracles among them as He had done at Capharnaum.  Various solutions at harmonizing these accounts are proposed.  The most probable seems to be that Jesus visited Nazareth twice during His Galilean ministry.  At the first visit He is, on the whole, favorably received, "and all bore him witness, and marvelled at the words of grace that came from his mouth" (Luke).  At the second visit they are angry at Him and even try to put Him to death.  Each of the three Evangelists combines both visits into a single account, the first two Gospels placing the combined account where only the second visit properly belongs, the Third Gospel placing its combined account where only the first visit properly belongs.  Matthew probably refers to the first visit in 4, 13.  Some commentators also see a reference to the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth in John 4, 44.

53.  Matthew's usual phrase at the end of each of the five great discourses.    54.  By his own country, literally "his fatherland," is here meant Nazareth.  In their synagogues: the Greek text has the singular, "synagogue," here as in the parallel passages.  There was only one synagogue in the little village of Nazareth.  They were astonished: the same Greek verb is used to describe the reaction of the people at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (7, 28) and at our Lord's argument against the Sadducees (22, 23); it signifies glad amazement, joyous wonder.  This probably refers to the first visit of Jesus.    55.  The carpenter's son: Mark has, "Is not this the carpenter?"  A son usually followed his father's trade.  The Greek word, like its Latin translation, signifies merely an "artisan," and is used of workers in stone (masons) and in metal (smiths) as well as in wood (carpenters).  His brethren: see Commentary on 12, 46.    56.  And his sisters, are they not all with us here at Nazareth?  The other relatives had changed their residence with Jesus to Capharnaum, but these female relatives who were married at Nazareth could not well accompany them there.  The word all implies more than two.    57.  See note to text.  The words of Jesus are evidently a well-known proverb with the same general sense as our modern saying, "No man is a hero to his valet."

Confraternity Bible:

Parables about the Kingdom of Heaven  1 On that day Jesus left the house and was sitting by the water's edge.  2 And as great crowds gathered about him, he got into a boat and sat down.  And all the crowd stood on the shore.

The Sower and the Seed  3 And he spoke to them many things in parables, saying, "Behold, the sower went out to sow.  4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the birds came and ate them up.  5 And other seeds fell upon rocky ground, where they had not much earth; and they sprang up at once, because they had no depth of earth; 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.  7 And other seeds fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them.  8 And other seeds fell upon good ground, and yielded fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold.  9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"

Reason for Parables 10 And the disciples came up and said to him, "Why dost thou speak to them in parables?"  11 And he answered and said, "To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.  12* For to him who has shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him who does not have, even that which he has shall be taken away.  13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, neither do they understand.  14* In them is being fulfilled the prophecy of Isaias, who says,
'Hearing you will hear, but not understand; and seeing you will see, but not perceive. 

15* For the heart of this people has been hardened, and with their ears they have been hard of hearing,

And their eyes they have closed;

Lest at any time they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their mind,

And be converted, and I heal them.'
16 "But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.  17 For amen I say to you, many prophets and just men have longed to see what you see, and they have not seen it; and to hear what you hear, and they have not heard it.

Explaining the Parable  18 "Hear, therefore, the parable of the sower.  19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, but does not understand it, the wicked one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.  This is he who was sown by the wayside.  20 And the one sown on rocky ground, that is he who hears the word and receives it immediately with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but continues only for a time, and when trouble and persecution come because of the word, he at once falls away.  22 And the one sown among the thorns, that is he who listens to the word; but the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it is made fruitless.  23 And the one sown upon good ground, that is he who hears the word and understands it; he bears fruit and yields in one case a hundredfold, in another sixtyfold, and in another thirtyfold."

The Weeds  24 Another parable he set before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men were asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  26 And when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then the weeds appeared as well.  27 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, 'Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field?  How then does it have weeds?'  28 He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.'  And the servants said to him, 'Wilt thou have us go and gather them up?' 29 'No,' he said, 'lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  30 Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will say to the reapers, Gather up the weeds first and bind them in bundles to burn; but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

The Mustard Seed  31 Another parable he set before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field.  32 This indeed is the smallest of all the seeds; but when it grows up it is larger than any herb and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and dwell in its branches."

33 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and buried in three measures of flour, until all of it was leavened."

34 All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and without parables he did not speak to them; 35* that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled,
"I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world."
Parable of the Weeds  36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house.  And his disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."  37 So answering them he said, "He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.  38 The field is the world; the good seed, the sons of the kingdom; the weeds, the sons of the wicked one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.  But the harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels.  40 Therefore, just as the weeds are gathered up and burnt with fire, so will it be at the end of the world.  41 The Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all scandals and those who work iniquity, 42 and cast them into the furnace of fire, where there will be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth.  43 Then the just will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The Treasure and the Pearl  44 "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field; he who finds it hides it, and in his joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.  46 When he finds a single pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.

Parable of the Net  47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net cast into the sea that gathered in fish of every kind.  48 When it was filled, they hauled it out, and sitting down on the beach, they gathered the good fish into vessels, but threw away the bad.  49 So will it be at the end of the world.  The angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and will cast them into the furnace of fire, where there will be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth.

Conclusion  51 "Have you understood all these things?"  They said to him, "Yes."  52 And he said to them, "So then, every Scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings forth from his storeroom things new and old."

Jesus at Nazareth  53 And it came to pass when Jesus had finished these parables, that he set out from that place.  54 And when he had come to his own country, he began to teach them in their synagogues, so that they were astonished, and said, "How did this man come by this wisdom and these miracles?  55 Is not this the carpenter's son?  Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Jude?  56 And his sisters, are they not all with us?  Then where did he get all this?"  57* And they took offense at him.  But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, and in his own house."  58 And because of their unbelief, he did not work many miracles there.


12: One grace prepares for another; one who fails to correspond with grace will lose what he has.

14-15: Isa. 6, 9 f.

35: Ps. 77, 2.

57: The lowliness of Jesus and His relatives proved to be a stumbling-block for the people of Nazareth.  He was much different from the Messias they expected.  See note, Mark 6, 3.