The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

St Jerome’s Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 13:31-35

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 11, 2011

The kingdom of heaven, here spoken of by our Lord, is the propagation of the Gospel and the knowledge of the Scriptures, which are the way leading to life. Of this kingdom it was said to the Jews: The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof (Matt 21:43). This kingdom, therefore, is like to a grain of mustard-seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. Our Saviour is understood by many to be that man who sowed the seed in his field, for He is the Sower who sows in the souls of believers. Others understand every man who sows good seed in his own field, that is, in himself, in his own heart. Now, who is he that sows, but our own mind and soul, which take the good grain from preaching, and by nourishing it in the soil, cause it to spring up in the field of our own heart?

The preaching of the Gospel is the beginning of all doctrines, He that preaches, for his first lesson, a God made man, Christ s death, and the stumbling-block of the Cross, receives at first but little credit. Compare such teaching as this with the doctrines of philosophers, with their books, their splendid eloquence and their rounded sentences, and you will see that the grain of the Gospel, when it is sown, is the humblest of all seeds. But when the doctrines of men grow up, there is nothing piercing, nothing healthy, nothing life-giving therein; the plant is drooping, weak and withered. There are herbs and grass of which it may truly be said that the grass is withered and theflower is fallen (Isa. xl. 8). But the grain of the Gospel-seed, though, when it is sown, seems to be the least of all seeds, when once it is rooted in the soul of man or in the whole world, grows, not into a herb, but becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air whereby we may understand either the souls of the believers or the powers bound to the service of God come and dwell in the branches thereof. I consider that the branches of the Gospel-tree, growing from the grain of the mustard-seed, are the divers developments of doctrine, on which the mysterious birds mentioned above find resting-places. Our duty, therefore, is to take the wings of the dove and, in a quick flight, to soar up to the most sublime things, so that we may make our dwelling in the branches of this mysterious tree, where we shall rest in the shadow of the doctrine of salvation, be separated from earthly things, and thus be nearer to heaven. There are many who, reading in the Gospel that the mustard-seed is the least of all seeds, heard that the disciples said to their Master: Lord, increase our faith; and that He answered: If you have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, you shall say to this mountain: Remove from hence, and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible to you (Matt 17:19). Such people imagine that the Apostles  asked for a little faith only, or that our Lord doubted their faith. But if they considered the words of St. Paul, they would recognise that the faith, compared by our Saviour with a grain of mustard-seed, was in His eyes a very great faith; for the Apostle says: If I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:2). Thus we are taught that, what we can do with faith like a grain of mustard-seed, according to our Lord, is done, as St. Paul explains, with the most perfect faith.

And our Lord spoke another parable to the multitude: The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened. Jesus, to accommodate Himself to the different classes of His hearers, made use of different parables, all meant to be the means for curing divers spiritual ailments. The woman, who in the parable takes the leaven, seems to me to signify the preaching of the Apostles, or the Church formed of different nations. The leaven taken by the woman means the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures; whereas the three measures of meal, in which the leaven is hidden, represent our intellect, soul and body, united in perfect agreement and harmony. They are like two or three persons gathered together in prayer, and receiving from the Heavenly Father whatsoever they ask for. Yet, another meaning may also be found in these words of the parable. We read in the writings of Plato and this is the general opinion of philosophers, that there are in our soul three passions called the reason able, the irascible and the concupiscent. The same pagan philosopher also speaks of the different parts of our body wherein each passion resides. Take, therefore, the leaven mentioned in the Gospel, that is, the wisdom of Holy Scripture, and you will keep these passions in check; you will even make them serve as means to attain your desired object, that is, reason will help you to practise prudence, anger will inspire you with hatred against sin, and concupiscence will give you a longing for Christian virtues. And you will succeed in all this through the doctrine given to us by the true Church of Christ.

I will also mention some opinions held by different learned men concerning this parable, so that the reader may accept what pleases him best. Some think that the woman of the Gospel is the figure of the Church founding the belief of the faithful upon. the doctrine of the three Divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, represented under the image of the three measures of meal. These, they say, are of the same substance, and consequently speak to us of the same Divine Nature of the three Persons, being one and the same God. However, this is only a pious opinion which, like other comparisons, cannot be used to prove the fundamental truths of our holy religion, revealed to us by an infallible Authority. Other interpretations of the words of this parable cannot be mentioned here without going beyond the limits assigned to this commentary.

All these things Jesus spoke in parables, says the Gospel, to the multitude, not to the Apostles. The same language is even now used by zealous preachers addressing large assemblies; but the disciples wished to learn from the very source, that is, from the Master Himself, the true doctrine which they were to preach to others. Again the Gospel says: That the word might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, saying: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world (Ps 78:2). The prophet, relating the events that took place at the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, and the miracles wrought by God in their favour, announces that all these things are not to be taken in a literal sense, for they contain comparisons and hidden mysteries which will one day be explained by the Saviour of the world Himself.

One Response to “St Jerome’s Homiletic Commentary on Matthew 13:31-35”

  1. […] UPDATE: St Jerome’s Commentary on Matt 13:31-35. […]

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