THE PARABLES ON THE SHORES OF THE LAKE
WHY JESUS BEGINS TO SPEAK IN PARABLES THE NATURE OF THE PARABLE THE SEEDSOWING AND VARIETIES OF SOIL THE MASTER'S DETAILED EXPLANATION A COMPLEMENTARY PARABLE IN ST. MARK THE GRAIN OF MUSTARDSEED THE LEAVEN THE COCKLE AMONG THE WHEAT JESUS' EXPLANATION THE TREASURE THE PRECIOUS STONE THE NET AND THE DEFINITIVE SEPARATION OF THE GOOD FROM THE WICKED THE TRUE TEACHER, FOR THE SAKE OF HIS HEARERS, VARIES HIS MANNER OF TEACHING. (St. Matthew xiii, 153; St. Mark iv, 134; St. Luke viii, 418, and xiii, 1821.)
AGAIN did Jesus come forth victorious from the conflict, yet it was becoming evident that His enemies would increase their hostility more and more. A crowd is a centre open to all; the evildisposed are always able to conceal themselves therein, and by their malevolent hints have the power to destroy what the good have built up by force of zeal and patience. Jesus, therefore, perceived the need, while continuing to speak to all, of keeping the final word of His teaching for those alone who were worthy of knowing it. The philosophers of old had themselves divided their auditors into two distinct categories,1 and in addition to their public (exoteric) teaching, they were pleased to give a private (esoteric) teaching also. Friends deserve some preference. Besides, what Jesus did, took from no one the right to enter, with slight effort, into His whole thought. Truth, as it fell from His lips veiled in pleasing figures, could not, for that reason, be any the less intelligible. Between friends and enemies He made this sole difference, that to the former He proposed to explain His thought in full, if they should prove too dull to perceive it, while to the latter He left the care of seeking it by themselves and the danger of not finding it.
This is why the Saviour began to speak in parables, and this kind of teaching becomes henceforward His ordinary method of expounding the mysteries of the kingdom of God. St. Matthew observes that thus He fulfilled the word of the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world."2 The parable, as the word indicates,3 is a kind of problem given to those present. Any problem may conceal the truth from natures too lazy to seek it, but the parable has the advantage of fixing it firmly in the mind of him who has succeeded in understanding it. To produce a parable, some phenomenon of nature or some incident of life was taken, at haphazard, and, in the narration, concealed as beneath a material4 veil, was the supernatural and transcendent idea meant to be inculcated. The parable, then, differs not only from the fable, but from the allegory as well. The fable is less pretentious in scope, while in form it pays such slight regard to the literal truth that it describes inanimate objects as though they were endowed with sense, and makes even animals talk. In the allegory the symbol identifies itself with the reality symbolised, as when Jesus says allegorically: I am the Door; or, I am the Good Shepherd; whereas in the parable there is always found some further fact apart from the moral teaching which the parabolist has in view. The king, the wheat, the tares, for instance, are things that have a truth of their own independently of the lesson to which they compel attention. In a word, they serve as a term of comparison, and suggest, under the guise of forms drawn from the world about one, the striking moral to be enforced. The genius of the Orientals has always encouraged the language of parable; and it must be acknowledged that it has happily employed it whenever it has succeeded in putting off its own natural exuberance, and has thus avoided useless details. Unity of subject here, as everywhere else, must be maintained; those points of the narration alone are to be put prominently in evidence which are to give a transparent form to the truth as proposed.5
As a parable is not an enigma, he who proposes one, with the idea of arousing the attention of his hearers without fatiguing it, ought to permit them to take a provisional glimpse of the line of development he intends to follow in order that they may seize the thought halfveiled, as it were. It is, therefore, usual to announce at the very beginning the idea that is to be explained in parabolic form. Confronted with these two data, the known and the enigmatic, indolent minds, or those of evil intent, are disheartened or go astray, while upright, generous natures feel their attention roused, and set themselves actively to, the task which will be completed later by an authorised explanation, if this be needed. Imagination, feeling, intellectual activity are all excited at once, and it may be said that through them the great doors of the soul are opened, and the most abstract doctrines enter in to be graven the more surely for having been the more happily clothed in sensual and attractive forms. Having recourse, therefore, to this interesting method of teaching, the Saviour, with wise forethought, will make the necessary selection among His hearers, and will cause these souls of earth to be permeated with the sublime thoughts of heaven.
His desire must have been to define the present and the future history of God's Kingdom, its victorious struggles against evil no less than its pacific, moral, and, contrary to the Jewish notions of the time, thoroughly spiritual character. He does this in a series of seven parables, transmitted to us by St. Matthew. This number seven, the sum of three, the number of the divinity, and four, that of humanity, is not without a mystic meaning. Taken as a marvellous whole, these parables show us God uniting Himself to man by His word and by His grace in order to establish, in spite of all obstacles, the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth. They were not set forth in quick succession. That would have resulted in an insurmountable obstacle for those minds which already had some difficulty in grasping these problems, one after the other, notwithstanding the detailed solutions by which they had been followed. Jesus had to proceed with greater tact, and, though the points at which He paused are not marked in St. Matthew, we may conclude from a hint in St. Mark6 that, after having put forward one parable, the Master always granted His disciples time to search patiently for its hidden meaning. At any rate, the first Synoptic is the only one who thus places them in a group of seven. The second mentions only two, and adds a third which is not in the others. The third Synoptic inserts the parable of the Sower here, but places those of the MustardSeed and the Leaven later on.
That He might be the better understood by the multitude, and be free to withdraw at will, He once more entered a boat; from which, fixing His gaze on the numerous audience that was stretched out along the shore, He thus began:
"Behold the sower went out to sow, and whilst he soweth some fell by the wayside, and the birds of the air came and ate it up. And other some fell upon stony ground where it had not much earth; and it shot up immediately, because it had no depth of earth; and when the sun was risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it; and it yielded no fruit. And some fell upon good ground and brought forth good fruit, that grew up, and increased and yielded, one thirty, another sixty, and another a hundred."7 Then, raising His voice, the Master spoke His enigmatic summons to the minds of all: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!"
He has described the varying results of the divine word in souls. Such a subject was well worth the most serious study. His hearers must seek in themselves the application of this parable; and, as the future of the sowing depends on the nature of the soil, it is of supreme importance that each one should endeavour to remove everything likely to hinder the fecundation and full development of the divine germ. Among these instances of sterility it will be observed that the first proceeds from two causes, both of which are exterior: the feet of the passersby who trod upon the seed, and the birds of the air that devoured it. The second, also, has two causes, the one exterior, the heat of the sun, and the other interior, the want of depth of vegetable mould. The third has but one cause, and that wholly interior: the soil is filled with other seeds. There is real fertility only when the earth is neither so hard as practically to be impenetrable, nor so friable as to retard growth, nor so mixed with foreign matter as to destroy all seminal life, but affords good soil free and well prepared.
It is clear that this classification corresponded to the four categories of souls which Jesus discerned among His hearers. By an inspiration as happy as it was natural, He had likened them to the fields of varying degrees of fertility which He saw upon the hillsides. It was from that source that the figure came that clothed His thought and helped to point His parable. It embodied a fresh and living idea which He cast into the midst of the attentive multitude. He then withdrew and left them time to discover its real meaning.
The disciples did not weary their minds with this work. Their perspicacity, besides, was only commonplace. But when they were alone with the Master, they asked Him both the reason for His new manner of teaching, and the explanation of what they had just heard.
To their first question Jesus responded: "To you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God, but to the others it is not given. For he that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall abound; but he that hath not, from him shall be taken away that also which he hath. Therefore, do I speak to them in parables, to the end that, seeing they may perceive not, and hearing they may hear and not understand. So shall the prophecy of Isaias be fulfilled in them, who saith: `By hearing you shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive. For the heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears they have been dull of hearing, and their eyes they have shut, lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.'"8
Such, in truth, is the consequence of man's malice and of God's justice. When the sinner wilfully shuts his heart against divine truth, a twofold chastisement falls upon him: his eye is darkened and he sees not even the most brilliant light, or, if he sees it, he does not perceive it. God leaves him, and so despoils the soul of whatever capacity is still left it for the further gift of supernatural life. In this manner is produced the moral phenomenon known as hardening or palsy of the heart. It is not by an anterior act of God's will, as might be thought from the text of Isaias, nor by a final and absolute act, but by a conditional decree, a judgment of His providence, that all this happens. And so the man who has repudiated conversion becomes, by the very spectacle of his moral crassness, a warning that others may profit by. If Jesus inaugurates a new method of instruction, it is because the world was unwilling to understand even His clearer discourses. He withdraws the light; it is the beginning of a punishment which is as yet neither complete nor final. The Jews might still by an effort be able to pierce the surface of the parable, and entreat the divine mercy to return to them in the full manifestation of its truth. If they do it not, it is because their carnal hearts are wholly devoted to death.
As for the faithful, those men of goodwill, who thirst for light, to them the mysteries of God, that is to say the plan of religion, the secrets of the life divine in its relations with that of creatures, will clearly and patiently be explained. "But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. For, amen, I say to you, many prophets and just men have desired to see the things that you see and have not seen them; and to hear the things that you hear and have not heard them." This full initiation into the mysteries of heavenly doctrine is granted to the disciples, either because of the good disposition of their hearts, or in view of the part reserved for them in the founding of the Church. What they learn, they shall be called upon to teach. The Master is pleased to intrust to them the talents which they shall have to render fruitful for His sake. For them to be enlightened is to contract the obligation of enlightening others. This obligation is the greatest honour that can be done to man. Under Jesus' rule, and with Him, they shall be the teachers of mankind.
Then, replying to their second question, concerning the sense of the parable, Jesus manifests His benevolence and patience toward His own true proselytes.
"The seed is the word of God," He says. Between the grain sown in the furrow and the truth of God implanted in souls there is, indeed, much similarity of growth. If nothing happens to check their native activity, both must produce life and its abundant fruits. The first and veritable sower is the Son of God, the Word of the Father, Who casts Himself upon the world like good grain, first by His Incarnation, and then by His word. After Him, there are other sowers sent by Him; these are they who spread on earth the teachings of His Gospel. "And they by the wayside are they that hear; then the devil cometh and taketh the word out of their heart lest believing they should be saved." These dissipated souls, exposed to every impression, to all the winds of heaven, and long since hardened also beneath the feet that trample on them, are wholly incapable of receiving the divine teachings with profit. The fecundating influence of grace and the workings of conscience have ceased to move them. And, therefore, by failing to open the soil of the heart for the assimilation of the divine seed, they leave it exposed. Soon the world with its hurlyburly, its noisy distractions, its dangerous maxims, and the demon, who is king of this world, the hater of God's word, kill or remove these germs of life. Thus sealed to heaven and all open to earth, these wretched souls become laden with new responsibility and new guilt, without hope of resurrection or salvation. "Now they upon the rock9 are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, and these have no roots; for they believe for a while and in time of temptation they fall away." These superficial minds are alas! but too numerous. In them glowing imagination and a very intense impressionism take the place of depth and solidity. They grasp the truth with eagerness, as they do any other novelty held out to them. They surprise us by the excess of their first fervour, but the fervour will not endure. Beneath their superficial refinement there is a fundamental hardness, selflove and pride, that cannot sustain true life. Nothing could be more ephemeral than the harvest that ripens in such a soil. It has not, nor can it have, any root. The first temptation will devour it like the burning sun; the first scandal will uproot it like an impetuous wind. It is only inexperience that will look for fruit from such a life. Imagination divorced from reason, sentimentality without conviction will never make a true Christian.
"And that which fell among thorns are they who have heard, and, going their way, are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and yield no fruit." These apparently welldisposed hearts, too, are quite numerous; but they are divided between God and the world, and, notwithstanding their rich and fertile soil, they will produce nothing. The cares of life, the goads of concupiscence, the unchecked desire for the deceitful riches of earth are so many cruel thorns that spring up in them, increasing and multiplying and forming an impenetrable thicket wherein the good seed will die imprisoned. The bushes, as they grow, hide it from the sun, and by multiplying their roots, they dispute with it the enriching power of the soil. What will then be left it as an element of life? Nothing. It will, therefore, perish miserably. Why has not the soul, that has beheld and even accepted the truth, the courage to follow it and by so doing insure its own salvation? This is the mystery of evil. Distracted, beset on all sides, tormented by violent passions, it will see its earliest effort spend itself in miserable sterility.
"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 fecundity of these pure, noble souls is beautiful and consoling. Happily endowed by nature, exercised in a continual moral effort, freed from all earthly preoccupations, and made ready by grace, they delight and glorify the heavenly Sower.
This is the entire story of the Kingdom of God in its beginnings, its abrupt endings, its growth. It takes root only in hearts that are naturally good, responsive, and sincere. All others it barely touches in passing by. It leaves them barren and dead, because it finds them unworthy of the gift of life. But once having fallen upon good ground, the divine word labours therein, alone, so to speak, and fructifies by the sheer force of its own virtue. This is what Jesus gives His Apostles to understand in a short parable found in St. Mark,10 but not mentioned by St. Matthew, it would seem, because those he gives already contain it in their general meaning.
"When a man has sown his seed," says the Master, "whether he is asleep or awake, night or day, germination will go on without his knowing how, and the earth will put forth, first the blade, then the ear, and last of all the full corn in the ear." When the grain is ripe there is nothing more for him to do but to come with his sickle; it is harvesttime. God's word, it is true, moves virtuous souls, though they know it not. They are frequently anxious because they do not perceive their advance in virtue. Theirs is like the impatience of the husbandman who would wish to see suddenly ripe upon the ear the grain he has just cast into the earth. We must learn to moderate our eagerness, to let God's grace pursue its gradual work, at times imperceptible, but ever certain. It will bring the fruit to maturity, if we do nothing to render the soil bad or the development of the germ impossible. In His mercy and paternal care God never wearies of labouring in the depths of souls who love Him, and of putting in them the power "both to will and to accomplish," as says St. Paul.11 As, in the furrow, the grain which is at first warmed, then, in turn, moistened, softened, and developed, mysteriously takes root, and afterward springs up triumphant from the ground, being transformed, multiplied, and ripened with no further effort on the husbandman's part, so the religious life is born in the heart, is rooted there, and then leaps forth to multiply and spread by the most astonishing works of charity, gradually opening into the full maturity of a sanctity admired of earth, and, in the end, rewarded of heaven. The true and faithful man has only to remain goodfor this is an indispensable condition and to let things take their course. He may sleep in peace; a fine harvest is assured him. God, the great and mighty Worker, watches for him, and His benediction will be able to satisfy our greatest desires.
Thanks to God's persevering, energetic, intimate action upon His faithful, the Church, surmounting all obstacles, must complete the conquest of the whole world and become God's Kingdom made visible on earth. Her development will present a twofold character of sudden grandeur and of victorious though latent universality, which must be well understood. It is a proof of the divinity of her Founder. That the idea of it might be conceived, Jesus expounded two other parables, one of which, concerning the grain of mustardseed, sets forth the miracle of the interior development of the Church, and the other, regarding the leaven, the amazing power of her intimate influence on the mass of mankind.
"To what shall we liken the Kingdom of God, or to what parable shall we compare it?" He asked. "It is as a grain of mustardseed, which when it is sown in the earth is less than all the seeds that are in the earth. And when it is sown it groweth up and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches, so that the birds of the air may dwell under the shadow thereof." The smallness of the grain of charlock or mustardseed was proverbial among the Jews;12 but this invisible seed has an extraordinary vegetative force. In Palestine the mustardplant sometimes attains the proportions of a little figtree.13 Birds in flocks, in search of food, alight on it. Hanging from the sides of a rock, it may be, one of these hardy shrubs attracted, at the moment, the Saviour's attention. He took from it the lively antithesis which He wished to set forth, and, sacrificing the emblem of the cedar which Ezechiel had selected in the prophecy14 to which this parable alludes, He looked for His analogue in something infinitely small. This was essential in order to prove how nothing can become everything under God's inspiration. The scarcely perceptible grain of mustardseed is no other than this very Man Who for thirty years lived on, humble, ignored, misunderstood in the shop at Nazareth, Whose only helpers are twelve unknown, ignorant, despised men, and Who tomorrow is to die a most infamous death. But, within itself, this small seed has incomparable warmth and life. In vain will they endeavor to shut it up in a grave. It will shoot forth, and, breaking through the ground, will send out from its heart a tree that shall astonish the world by its luxuriant vegetation. This tree is the Church; among Its branches shall come for rest and nutrition the great souls that scorn the earth, and seek to live in the higher regions of religious knowledge, of holiness, and of the life divine. For nineteen centuries we may say that no great sentiment, no grand idea, no sublime devotion has been in the world without seeking a shelter beneath this mystic tree and without finding in its branches its sweetest joys and best inspirations.
Parallel with this rapid and visible extension of the Kingdom of God, the hidden and deepset transformation of mankind will take place. Again Jesus said: "Where unto shall I esteem the Kingdom of God to be like? It is like to leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal,15 till the whole was leavened." It is an essential property of leaven to penetrate the entire mass in which it is placed. It causes a general fermentation and insures for the bread the porousness and the lightness that constitute its excellence. Jesus, or, if one prefers, the Christian teaching, is the leaven of the moral life here below. The woman who puts this leaven in the three measures of meal is the Church which, for nineteen hundred years, developes the dominion of the Saviour and disseminates His doctrines in the three parts of the ancient world, or among the three great races of humanity, until all is fermented, raised, and transformed. The work is not yet near its end. The secret influence still goes on. Unbelief declares, in vain, that Christ is vanishing from the world. He goes on before it and every day gains new ground. Every hour there is some soul generous enough to carry to a greater distance the sacred leaven of the Gospel into some corner of the globe, and mankind is unconsciously overrun. Even those who think to do naught in behalf of Christianity, they, too, for various reasons stir up the inert mass of paganism and of barbarism; and, though they seek only to broaden the confines of civilisation, it is the dominion of Jesus Christ that they assist in developing.
It is unfortunate that this triumph of the Church, assured in future time, does not exclude all base alloy from the Christian society in the present. There will be always some good and some wicked. The glorious coming of Jesus Christ will be realised despite this interior obstacle permitted by God. Therefore we may not retire to our repose in dangerous optimism and tell ourselves that since we are enrolled in the Kingdom of God here below, we are, therefore, good and shall be of the Kingdom on high. One may be in the Church and be a sinner; we may wear the livery of a Christian and be reprobate; the patience of God in this life does not prevent His justice in the life to come; on the contrary, it the more forcibly evokes it. Another parable tells us this.
"The Kingdom of Heaven," Jesus says again, "is likened to a man that sowed good seed in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle16 among the wheat, and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. And the servants of the good man of the house, coming, said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? Whence, then, hath it cockle? And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And then the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? And he said: No, lest perhaps, gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn."
This figurative narration contained something particularly lively, both as a dialogue and as a portrayal of rustic customs. The disciples became very eager to learn its meaning. We little understand, in our day, in our civilised countries, the craven criminality of the wretch who scatters bad grain in his neighbour's furrow; but Roman law provided for it, and travellers tell us that it is still done in some countries in the Orient. The East Indian, in particular, threatens to sow in his enemy's cultivated lands the perumpirandi which would render a harvest impossible for several years. He watches for a favourable opportunity, and so succeeds in his criminal work as to throw a whole family into despair and most awful want.17 But who is the wretch that can seek to introduce evil into the Kingdom of God? What means this separation and these varying destinies of the cockle and of the wheat in the time of the harvest? The disciples were impatient in their desire to know. The soul that is being initiated into divine truth feels itself greedy of light, and all its desires are for a full revelation. Here, in particular, interest was the more pressing, as the grave question of the last end of man and of the diverse forms of future life seemed to have been raised.
As soon as He had dismissed the multitude and had reentered the house, Jesus was again assailed with questions by His disciples. They would know the full meaning of the parable which they had heard. With the touching kindness of a master or of a father teaching his children, He said: "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man and the field is the world; and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; and the cockle are the children of the wicked one; and the enemy that sowed them is the Devil." The disastrous activity of evil is therefore met at every step in life together with that of good.
Jesus sows in the universe which is indeed His field since He created it the race of the just. He does His work painfully in the full light of the sun, with suffering and with love. Satan accomplishes his like a traitor in the dark at one stroke for evil is done more swiftly than good and with hate. The errors, the moral unworthiness, the hypocrisy that lie hidden in the bosom of the Church, remain for a time unperceived, until at last events show forth the true children of God and His enemies, the good and the bad. One may discern them even in this life, and the outraged zeal of the toilers of the Gospel would willingly ask prompt justice. But the Master of the world wills it not. He knows how to be patient, because He is eternal, and, in our own behalf, He determines to employ forbearance. How many sinners would never have become good, if the hand of God had suddenly stricken them in their malice! And even when they are not converted, is it not evident that they serve to exercise the virtue of the just and to glorify it? As He awaits in patience the day of the harvest, God manifests His goodness, His wisdom, and His eternity. "But the harvest is the end of the world," says Jesus, "and the reapers are the Angels. Even as cockle, therefore, is gathered up and burnt with fire, so shall it be at the end of the world; the Son of Man shall send His Angels and they shall gather out of His Kingdom all scandals and them that work iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the just shine as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." It is worth while, for awfully decisive for every one shall be that moment when the Angels shall separate, in the immense harvest of mankind laid low beneath the scythe of death, the elect and the damned.
These portrayals of eternal pain, as well as of eternal reward, appear here neither for the first time nor for the last. The very insistence with which they are reproduced proves that they are not merely a sport of the imagination. There shall be as great despair in falling among these horrible woes, pictured by eternal fire, as there shall be holy joy in entering into that glory of which the brightness of the sun is but an imperfect image. Hell for some, heaven for others; the groanings of exile for the former, the joys of fatherland for the latter. It is a question of supreme importance.
Hence, Jesus, by two more parables, would have us know that we must endeavour, at any price, to become true citizens of the heavenly Kingdom. Cost what it may, we must get ourselves incorporated therein, and by keeping our place honourably in time, we shall deserve to dwell there for eternity.
"The Kingdom of Heaven," He says, "is like unto a treasure hidden in a field; which a man, having found, hid it, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath and buyeth that field." It is not the procedure by which the proprietor of the field is deprived of his right to the treasure, that is here recommended, but only the ardour displayed by him who, having, found the treasure, endeavours to gain possession of it. Likewise the soul, having seen its religious ideal in the Gospel, should hasten to sacrifice both its repose and its pleasures, its position and its fortune, to follow after it and to attain it. What matters all the rest if the treasure is everything for the soul? The Jewish people had this incomparable treasure; they had it in their lands; but they suspected it not. The Gentiles more happily came upon it one day suddenly, unexpectedly, beneath the feet of their triumphant hordes. At a glance they knew its inappreciable value, and, casting off their false wisdom, their false pleasures, their false gods, they bought this divine deposit from the obstinately blinded Jews; they became the proprietors and have forever supplanted the faithless synagogue which is rejected of God.
"Again," says Jesus, "the Kingdom of Heaven is like to a merchant seeking fine pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way and sold all that he had, and bought it." Such, also, should be the prudence of the philosopher, of the man of meditation, who spends all the strength of his mind in the search for truth. When, by the study of the contents of Christianity he has obtained a view of its sublime harmony, when the evidence of the Gospel argument has shone like a diamond to his experienced eye, he has only to close his books, to put an end to his search, to lay aside all pride, and to enjoy the incomparable treasure that grace has put beneath his hand. He has found light for his understanding, a rule for his will, consolation for his heart. To what do all those vanities now amount, which up to this moment had misled his life? Justin quits his philosopher's cloak; Augustine leaves his rhetorician's chair. They have found the precious stone; they have sold all to buy it, and their consolation is in the knowledge that on entering into eternity, while nothing else shall be of any value, the pearl they carry in their hands shall suffice to purchase for them a life of bliss.
It is with His disciples' minds filled with this thought of eternity that Jesus desires to leave them. In a final parable which He draws from an incident in the life of fishermen, of which they perhaps were witnesses nothing was better suited to the character of His hearers, fishermen by profession and future fishers of men, than such language He speaks once more of the varying destinies that await the good and the bad after death.
"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."
This will be the final result of the preaching of the Gospel. The net, or seine, much longer than it is wide, furnished with floats at the top and weights at the bottom, which the fishermen cast into the sea, and drag in the depths of the waters by ropes attached to the extremities, is the Gospel which the Apostles, God's valiant workers, patiently draw through all the world. It reaches everywhere, even to the regions of the humble classes. In its meshes it encloses every kind of fish, men of every race, of every tongue, of every condition, good. and bad. To those who are taken the Church gives the mark, the name, the law of the Christian, whatever their age, though she is not always able to discover their interior dispositions. They live all together, under the law of the Gospel, some indifferent, some even perverse. In the meantime the Angels of God insensibly draw the net to land; they lift the fine catch forth from the overflowing sea of the world, out of its deep waters, where evil is easily confused with good, and cast it surprised and shuddering upon the banks of eternity. There the great selection takes place. That which is good they gather in with care, while they reject with scorn what is worthless. These experienced servants make no mistakes. No merely apparent virtue, neither prodigies nor clever hypocrisy, can save the wicked. The separation will be fatal and definitive. Here once more the furnace of fire awaits the guilty, and they shall groan therein forever.
"Have ye understood all these things?" said the Master. The disciples responded: "Yes." And it would have been difficult to present to them in more tangible form these great laws of the supernatural order that govern the destiny of the world. The Master, content with their reply, was overjoyed at the result obtained, and advised the Apostles to be careful to vary their teaching, later on, so that it might be within the grasp of their hearers.
He said: "Therefore every scribe, instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven, is like to a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old." Thus the true messenger of the GoodTidings, in order to vary his teaching with profit, shall have at his disposal the complete science of the Old and the New Testament. He can faithfully expound the commandments of the Law and those of the Gospel, to demonstrate all the Messianic prophecies and their providential fulfilment. Such is the variety of substance in the hands of the true teacher. To this will be added, according to circumstances, men, and times, variety of form. One epoch differs from another in its tastes, in its intellectual culture, in its tendencies. Of all kinds of Gospelpreaching, those only are to be condemned that do no good. It is for the man of God to judge if he must introduce a new method of exposition into a new society, as Lacordaire so successfully essayed among the men of his time and nation, or if it be better to revive the past with its more simple homiletic teaching and its more practical and more pious considerations. The truth of the Gospel lends itself to each kind. It is enough that the Apostle should have it sufficiently matured in his heart, in advance, in order to be able to present it, in turn, with a wealth of figures, with logical energy, with the simplicity of ordinary colloquial speech. In this way he will prove his piety, as well as his knowledge and his close union with God, even more than his talent.
Jesus, having completed these parables which constituted the whole body of His doctrine concerning the Kingdom of Heaven, left Capharnaum and the shores of the lake and resumed His apostolic journeyings.
1 AulusGellius, N. A., xx, 4, tells this of Aristotle.
2 Ps. lxxvii, 2. Here again the Evangelist gives a prophetic sense to the canticle of Asaph the Seer (II Paralip. xxix, 30), which ought none the less, it would seem, to be taken in a literal sense.
3 Paraballw signifies I propose, I place side by side. Hence "parable," a problem or a juxtaposition of figure and truth.
4 The word omoios or omoiwqh, found at the beginning of each parable in the Gospel, tells clearly enough what a parable is; it is a similitude.
5 See Trench, Notes on the Parables (London, 1870); B. Bruce, The Parabolic Teaching of Christ (London, 1882); Goebel, Die Parabeln Jesu (Gotha, 1880).
6 St. Mark iv, 10.
7 St. Mark iv, 3-9.
8 Isa. vi, 9 et seq. This text is quoted by St. Matthew alone, and according to the Septuagint. In the prohecy, Isaias has received the command to bring about, by his preaching, the hardening of Israel and its final ruin.
9 St. Luke thus characterises them. If the fields were merely rocky, the roots could still gain a hold between the pebbles.
10 Cf. St. Mark iv, 9.649.
11 Philip. ii, 13.
12 St. Luke xvii, 6.
13 Hieros. Peah, fol. 20, 2: R. Simeon ben Colaphta says: "Caulis sinapis erat mihi in agro meo, in quam ego scandere solitus eram ut scandere solent in ficum."
14 Ezech. xvii, 92.
15 Three measures of flour was the ordinary quantity kneaded at a time by the Jews. (Gen. xviii, 6.)
16 Some think that the word zizanion signifies in general any plant injurious to the harvest. Others consider it a question, here, of false oats, the infelix lolium of Virgil (Ecl., v, 37). But most interpreters claim that it treats here of a plant quite common in Palestine, whose kernel is somewhat similar to that of wheat. Its growth is much the same as that of real grain. It is only when the growth is completed that the injurious herb is distinguished by its fruit.
17 Roberts, Oriental Illustrations, p. 541.
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