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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

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Commentary on Matthew

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13, 1–53 :

The discourse in parables is the third great discourse of Jesus in Mt and constitutes the second part of the third book of the gospel. Matthew follows the Marcan outline (Mk 4, 1–35 ) but has only two of Mark's parables, the five others being from Q and M. In addition to the seven parables, the discourse gives the reason why Jesus uses this type of speech ( 10–15 ), declares the blessedness of those who understand his teaching ( 16–17 ), explains the parable of the sower ( 18–23 ) and of the weeds ( 36–43 ), and ends with a concluding statement to the disciples ( 51–52 ).

13, 3 :

In parables: the word “parable” (Greek parabolē) is used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew maāshaāl, a designation covering a wide variety of literary forms such as axioms, proverbs, similitudes, and allegories. In the New Testament the same breadth of meaning of the word is found, but there it primarily designates stories that are illustrative comparisons between Christian truths and events of everyday life. Sometimes the event has a strange element that is quite different from usual experience (e.g., in v 33 , the enormous amount of dough in the parable of the yeast); this is meant to sharpen the curiosity of the hearer. If each detail of such a story is given a figurative meaning, the story is an allegory. Those who maintain a sharp distinction between parable and allegory insist that a parable has only one point of comparison, and that while parables were characteristic of Jesus' teaching, to see allegorical details in them is to introduce meanings that go beyond their original intention and even falsify it. However, to exclude any allegorical elements from a parable is an excessively rigid mode of interpretation, now abandoned by many scholars.

13, 3–8 :

Since in Palestine sowing often preceded plowing, much of the seed is scattered on ground that is unsuitable. Yet while much is wasted, the seed that falls on good ground bears fruit in extraordinarily large measure. The point of the parable is that, in spite of some failure because of opposition and indifference, the message of Jesus about the coming of the kingdom will have enormous success.

13, 11 :

Since a parable is figurative speech that demands reflection for understanding, only those who are prepared to explore its meaning can come to know it. To understand is a gift of God, granted to the disciples but not to the crowds. In Semitic fashion, both the disciples' understanding and the crowd's obtuseness are attributed to God. The question of human responsibility for the obtuseness is not dealt with, although it is asserted in v 13 . The mysteries: as in Lk 8, 10; Mk 4, 11 has “the mystery.” The word is used in Dn 2, 18.19.27 and in the Qumran literature (1QpHab 7, 8 ; 1QS 3, 23; 1QM 3, 9) to designate a divine plan or decree affecting the course of history that can be known only when revealed. Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven means recognition that the kingdom has become present in the ministry of Jesus.

13, 12 :

In the New Testament use of this axiom of practical “wisdom” (see 25, 29; Mk 4, 25; Lk 8, 18; 19, 26 ), the reference transcends the original level. God gives further understanding to one who accepts the revealed mystery; from the one who does not, he will take it away (note the “theological passive,” more will be given, what he has will be taken away).

13, 13 :

Because ‘they look ‬ … or understand’: Matthew softens his Marcan source, which states that Jesus speaks in parables so that the crowds may not understand (Mk 4, 12 ), and makes such speaking a punishment given because they have not accepted his previous clear teaching. However, his citation of Is 6, 9–10 in v 14 supports the harsher Marcan view.

13, 16–17 :

Unlike the unbelieving crowds, the disciples have seen that which the prophets and the righteous of the Old Testament longed to see without having their longing fulfilled.

13, 24–30 :

This parable is peculiar to Matthew. The comparison in v 24 does not mean that the kingdom of heaven may be likened simply to the person in question but to the situation narrated in the whole story. The refusal of the householder to allow his slaves to separate the wheat from the weeds while they are still growing is a warning to the disciples not to attempt to anticipate the final judgment of God by a definitive exclusion of sinners from the kingdom. In its present stage it is composed of the good and the bad. The judgment of God alone will eliminate the sinful. Until then there must be patience and the preaching of repentance.

13, 25 :

Weeds: darnel, a poisonous weed that in its first stage of growth resembles wheat.

13, 30 :

Harvest: a common biblical metaphor for the time of God's judgment; cf Jer 51, 33; Jl 4, 13; Hos 6, 11 .

13, 31–33 :

See Mk 4, 30–32; Lk 13, 18–21 . The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast illustrate the same point: the amazing contrast between the small beginnings of the kingdom and its marvelous expansion.

13, 32 :

See Dn 4, 7–9.17–19 , where the birds nesting in the tree represent the people of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom. See also Ez 17, 23 and 31, 6 .

13, 33 :

Except in this Q parable and in 16, 12 , yeast (or “leaven”) is, in New Testament usage, a symbol of corruption (see 16, 6.11–12; Mk 8, 15; Lk 12, 1; 1 Cor 5, 6–8; Gal 5, 9 ). Three measures: an enormous amount, enough to feed a hundred people. The exaggeration of this element of the parable points to the greatness of the kingdom's effect.

13, 34 :

Only in parables: see vv 10–15 .

13, 35 :

The prophet: some textual witnesses read “Isaiah the prophet.” The quotation is actually from Ps 78, 2 ; the first line corresponds to the LXX text of the psalm. The psalm's title ascribes it to Asaph, the founder of one of the guilds of temple musicians. He is called “the prophet” (NAB “the seer”) in 2 Chr 29, 30 , but it is doubtful that Matthew averted to that; for him, any Old Testament text that could be seen as fulfilled in Jesus was prophetic.

13, 36 :

Dismissing the crowds: the return of Jesus to the house marks a break with the crowds, who represent unbelieving Israel. From now on his attention is directed more and more to his disciples and to their instruction. The rest of the discourse is addressed to them alone.

13, 37–43 :

In the explanation of the parable of the weeds emphasis lies on the fearful end of the wicked, whereas the parable itself concentrates on patience with them until judgment time.

13, 38 :

The field is the world: this presupposes the resurrection of Jesus and the granting to him of “all power in heaven and on earth” ( 28, 18 ).

13, 39 :

The end of the age: this phrase is found only in Mt (13, 40.49; 24, 3; 28, 20 ).

13, 41 :

His kingdom: the kingdom of the Son of Man is distinguished from that of the Father ( 43 ); see 1 Cor 15, 24–25 . The church is the place where Jesus' kingdom is manifested, but his royal authority embraces the entire world; see the note on 13, 38 .

13, 43 :

See Dn 12, 3 .

13, 44–50 :

The first two of the last three parables of the discourse have the same point. The person who finds a buried treasure and the merchant who finds a pearl of great price sell all that they have to acquire these finds; similarly, the one who understands the supreme value of the kingdom gives up whatever he must to obtain it. The joy with which this is done is made explicit in the first parable, but it may be presumed in the second also. The concluding parable of the fishnet resembles the explanation of the parable of the weeds with its stress upon the final exclusion of evil persons from the kingdom.

13, 44 :

In the unsettled conditions of Palestine in Jesus' time, it was not unusual to guard valuables by burying them in the ground.

13, 51 :

Matthew typically speaks of the understanding of the disciples.

13, 52 :

Since Matthew tends to identify the disciples and the Twelve (see the note on 10, 1 ), this saying about the Christian scribe cannot be taken as applicable to all who accept the message of Jesus. While the Twelve are in many ways representative of all who believe in him, they are also distinguished from them in certain respects. The church of Matthew has leaders among whom are a group designated as “scribes” ( 23, 34 ). Like the scribes of Israel, they are teachers. It is the Twelve and these their later counterparts to whom this verse applies. The scribe … instructed in the kingdom of heaven knows both the teaching of Jesus (the new) and the law and prophets (the old) and provides in his own teaching both the new and the old as interpreted and fulfilled by the new. On the translation head of a household (for the same Greek word translated householder in v 27 ), see the note on 24, 45–51 .

13, 54–17, 27 :

This section is the narrative part of the fourth book of the gospel.

13, 54–58 :

After the Sermon on the Mount the crowds are in admiring astonishment at Jesus' teaching ( 7, 28 ); here the astonishment is of those who take offense at him. Familiarity with his background and family leads them to regard him as pretentious. Matthew modifies his Marcan source ( 6, 1–6 ). Jesus is not the carpenter but the carpenter's son ( 55 ), “and among his own kin” is omitted ( 57 ), he did not work many mighty deeds in face of such unbelief ( 58 ) rather than the Marcan “… he was not able to perform any mighty deed there” ( 6, 5 ), and there is no mention of his amazement at his townspeople's lack of faith.

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