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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mat. 13:1–53. Mark 4:1–34. Luke 8:1–15]

ONE day when Jesus was near the lake of Genesareth, great crowds came to hear Him; and, sitting down on the shore, He began to teach. But the multitude still increasing, He went into a boat, and thence spoke to the people. And He taught and spoke to them in parables.

1. The Parable of the Seed

“The sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside, and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns growing up with it choked it. And some fell upon good ground, and being sprung up, yielded fruit a hundred-fold. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

And His disciples asked Him what this parable might be. To whom He said: “To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to the rest in parables, that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. And they by the wayside are they that hear; then the devil cometh, and taketh the word of God out of their heart, lest believing they should be saved. Now they upon the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no roots; who believe for awhile, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they who have heard, and going their way are choked with the cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit. But that on the good ground are they who in a good and perfect heart, hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience.”

The different ways of receiving the word of God. The sower is our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, through the apostles and their successors, proclaims the word of God. The field is the heart of man, for which the divine seed is destined. The chief lesson contained in the parable is that the effect of God’s word upon the soul depends entirely on the preparation and disposition of him who hears it, just as the fruitfulness of the natural seed depends on the cultivation and quality of the earth in which it is sown. The three cases mentioned in which the seed brought forth no fruit, point out the chief hindrances which man puts in the way of the efficacy of God’s word.

The first class are those in whom there is wanting a good will to receive God’s word with faith. They hear it indeed, but they will not open their hearts to it, because the devil and his human agents have succeeded by scorn, prejudice and false explanations in so setting them against everything supernatural, that they utterly refuse to believe. Take, for instance, the Pharisees in our Lord’s time, and also the so-called “enlightened” men of the present day.

The second class have a good will and are religious-minded people, but they are shallow and weak in character. They receive the word of God eagerly, but their faith does not penetrate to the depths of their heart and will, and lacks firmness and steadfastness. Therefore they fall away as soon as trials and persecution put their faith to the test. Remember the Israelites in the desert!

The third class are those who have faith and hold fast to it, but who do not live up to it, being quite absorbed in the things of this world. They give themselves up to the concupiscence of the eyes, the concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life, and bring forth no fruits worthy of faith. They have faith, but it is dead.

The three principal enemies of faith and the life of faith are, therefore: 1. the devil and his allies, who seek to deprive men of the willingness to believe, 2. weakness and vacillation of heart and will, 3. the three evil passions which govern the world.

The word of God bears fruit in those only who, besides accepting it willingly, cherish it in a heart purified by faith, and patiently and perseveringly live up to their faith.

Religion and grace are, therefore, affairs, not of reason, but chiefly of the heart and will. A powerful understanding is not necessary or even sufficient for salvation, or to enable us to lead a life according to faith. What is indispensable is a good heart, willing to receive what is great and supernatural.

APPLICATION. You see by this parable how necessary it is that your heart should be well prepared for receiving the word of God. Have you always had a desire to hear God’s word? Have you kept what you have heard in your heart, and made corresponding resolutions? Have you thought your religious instruction tedious? To which of the four classes described by our Lord do you think you belong? Pray fervently to the Holy Ghost before you hear any sermon, and listen attentively to it, with the resolve to take to heart and carry out what you hear.

2. The Parable of the Seed and the Cockle

Jesus proposed another parable to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like to a man that sowed good seed in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and sowed cockle (Fig. 75) among the wheat and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. And the servants of the master of the house came, and said to him: ‘Master, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? From whence, then, hath it cockle?’ He said to them: ‘An enemy hath done this.’ The servants said to him: ‘Wilt thou that we go and gather it up?’ And he said: ‘No, lest, while you gather up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Let both grow until the harvest, and in time of harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it in bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.’ ”

Jesus likewise explained this parable, saying that He who sows the good seed is Himself—the Son of Man. The field is the world. The good seed represents the children of God, and the cockle those of the devil. The enemy who sowed the cockle is the devil. The harvest-time is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels. As the cockle is plucked up and cast into the fire, so it will happen to the wicked at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send His angels, and take away from His kingdom all scandals; and those who are guilty thereof shall be cast into the everlasting flames of hell. But the just, the faithful servants of God, shall be gathered into the eternal granaries of heaven, and they shall shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.


Fig. 75. Cockle.

Evil in the Church of God. In order that the apostles and other preachers of the Gospel might not lose heart, when, in spite of all their efforts, men would not be converted, our Lord teaches in this parable that it must needs be that evil shall grow up in the Church alongside of the good, and that the complete separation of the evil from the good will only take place at the end of the world.

God suffers evil in His Church, 1. because He gave man a free will; 2. in order that the sinner may have time for conversion; 3. that the just may be proved and gain more merit; that even the wicked may bring glory to God, His holiness and justice being made manifest in them.

Holiness of the Church. When we say that God suffers evil in His Church, we do not mean in His Teaching Church, but in that part of it which is called ‘the learning Church’. The members of the Church, instead of following her teaching, are at times led away by the false maxims of the world. Therefore what is evil in the members of the Church comes from the devil and his allies, not from the Church herself. The Church sows only good seed by her teaching, her commandments and her means of grace; therefore she is holy, and leads to holiness those who obey her voice.

The General Judgment. The Son of Man, Jesus Christ, will come at the end of the world to judge the wicked and the just. (Seventh article of the Creed.)

Hell is the furnace into which the cockle will be cast, and where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Heaven. The just will come to the kingdom of their Father, i. e. to heaven, and will be glorified in body and soul, shining like the sun.

3. The Parables of the Grain of Mustard-seed; of the Leaven; of the Treasure hidden in the field; of the Pearl of great price; and of the Net full of fish

Another parable He proposed unto them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard-seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. Which is the least, indeed, of all seeds; but, when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and dwell in the branches thereof.”

Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like to a treasure hidden in the field, which a man having found, hideth, and, for joy thereof, goeth, and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field.”

“Again the kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant seeking good pearls. Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way, and sold all he had and bought it.”

“Again the kingdom of heaven is like to a net cast into the sea, and gathering together of all kinds of fishes. Which, when it was filled, they drew out, and sitting by the shore they chose out the good into vessels, but the bad they cast forth. So shall it be at the end of the world. The angels shall go out and shall separate the wicked from among the just; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

All these things Jesus spoke in parables to the multitudes: and without parables He did not speak to them.

The growth of the Church. The parable of the grain of mustard-seed means this: Even as from a very small grain there springs up a large shrub, so would the Church of God have a small and insignificant beginning, but would grow and grow until she formed a mighty kingdom, embracing all nations in her fold. In this parable, therefore, our Lord foretold the external increase of His Church. She was to be Catholic or world-wide.

The effects of Christianity. By the parable of the leaven our Lord described the manner in which His doctrine and grace would affect the hearts of men. The woman signifies the Church; the leaven, Christian truth and grace; while the meal denotes mankind, both individuals, and the whole race collectively. Even as leaven lays hold of one particle of meal after another, and penetrates everywhere, until the whole is rendered good and palatable, so would Christianity penetrate, purify and sanctify the hearts of men, and govern all their thoughts and aims, until the whole of human society was raised and sanctified by the doctrine and grace of Jesus Christ.

The greatest of treasures. This treasure signifies the graces of Christianity, which far surpass all the riches of this world. He who has found the great treasure of faith and grace is fortunate indeed. He rejoices, and guards his treasure jealously, and is willing to give up everything rather than lose the faith and grace of God.

The Parable of the Pearl also signifies the great happiness of possessing the true faith and being in a state of grace. He who really and laboriously strives after truth and salvation will obtain them. “There exists, however, only one pearl without price, for there exists only one Truth. And even as the wise merchant who bought this pearl at the cost of all that he possessed, alone knew how rich he had become by the possession of it, so only those who belong to the Church and possess grace know how rich they are. Those who have not the faith are ignorant of its value, and have no conception how rich those are who possess it!” (St. Irenæus.)

The separation at the Last Judgment. The parable of the net full of good and bad fish conveys the same lesson as the parable of the wheat and the cockle. We became members of the Church when we were baptized; but our Baptism by no means ensured our reception into heaven. If we do not keep our baptismal vows and remain in a state of God’s grace, we shall be finally rejected, and cast out of the net like the bad fish.

APPLICATION. The grace of God is the greatest of all treasures, and a pearl indeed without price. Have you ever lost it by mortal sin?

You can now understand better than you did before the meaning of the petition: “Thy kingdom come.” May the kingdom of God, His holy Church, ever grow, ever put forth boughs and branches, and ever bring unbelievers and heathen into her fold! May the kingdom of God’s grace and truth also continually sink into your heart, enlightening, purifying, and sanctifying you, so that you may be able to attain to God’s everlasting kingdom in heaven! Say often and devoutly, and in this sense, the prayer: “Thy kingdom come”, both for yourself, and for all those dear to you.

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