10. “And His disciples came and said to Him.” From St. Mark (4:10), it appears, the disciples did this after our Redeemer had retired to His house, and was alone with them, having sent away the crowds. He had proposed, consecutively, some of the parables recorded here, before He was asked by His disciples to explain the meaning, “Why speakest Thou to them in parables?” and, then, it was He explained them. But, St. Matthew, in his narrative, interrupts the course of the parables, and after narrating that of the sower, he describes, by anticipation, the request of the disciples to have it explained. They, it would seem, proposed a twofold question; 1st. As in this verse, why did He speak to the people in parables? 2nd. What the parable meant. “What this parable might be” (Luke 8:9); “they asked Him the parable” (Mark 4:10). Hence, our Redeemer gives a twofold answer.
11. He answers the first question in this verse. He reserves the answer to the second, for verse 18. It is deserving of remark, that our Redeemer, in His reply, does not assign all His reasons for speaking in parables. There were several reasons of utility for this, not to speak of the peculiar accommodation of parabolic language to the lively and imaginative temperament of the Eastern peoples (see v. 3). The reason here assigned by our Redeemer, is simply in reply to the question of His disciples, “Why speakest Thou to them in parables?” Because, to His disciples, and all who believe in Him, “it was given”—which implies, that the knowledge of spiritual truths, and the capacity for understanding them, is the pure gift of God, and comes, not from the strength of nature; but, from God’s holy grace—“to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven;” that is, to have a full knowledge of the hidden kingdom of Christ, and faith in Him. To them were given ears to hear, and holy dispositions to profit by the instructions of our Lord, as their eager inquiries indicated (Mark 4:10).
“But, to them it is not given,” to them who have ears to hear, and hear not, who harden their hearts against the impressions of Divine grace, “it is not given” to know the hidden spiritual truths (“the mysteries”) connected with “the kingdom of heaven;” and, therefore, these truths are not proposed to them in their plain, naked form, as they might and would, reject and spurn them. And so, these pearls are not to be cast before, swine; they must be veiled under the image of parables, to save them from disrespect and profanation. As if He said: To you I speak in plain language; because, to you, who are humble and docile, and glowing with the desire of hearing and understanding, it has been granted, as a singular favour, by the Father of lights, to know, not alone the Evangelical truths, which all should know, and which I, therefore, always expound in the plainest language; but also, “the mysteries,” the secret and admirable dispensations of Providence regarding the progress of the Gospel, as well among Jews as among Gentiles. But to them, most of whom, either disbelieve, or are influenced by idle curiosity, or despise and calumniate My doctrines, this special favour granted to you is not given. It is rather withheld from them by My Father, having proved themselves unworthy of it by their pride, unbelief, and abuse of gifts already bestowed on them.
12. In this verse is conveyed a reason for the foregoing dispensation of giving these gifts to the Apostles, and of withholding them from the others; and, consequently, for His speaking obscurely to the latter class, and plainly to the former (see 25:29).
“That hath,” that makes good use of the gifts he possesses, faithfully corresponds with the graces received, and employs them advantageously, according to the intentions of the original donor. “To him (more, or a further increase of gifts), shall be given, and he shall abound” the more. “But he that hath not,” who neglects to turn to profit or advantage the gifts he has; so that, although possessing them, he might be said, not to have them, as he uses them not, and might as well not have them at all, which is illustrated by “having eyes and seeing not.” “Even that which he hath”—in chapter 25:29, it is, “that which he seemeth to have;” and Luke (8:18), “that which he thinketh he hath”—“shall be taken away from him.”
This would seem to be a proverbial form of expression, applied by our Redeemer to His present purpose, as if to convey to us, that what is said commonly to occur, is verified also in regard to the kingdom of heaven.
In this verse is conveyed, that while the knowledge of the mysteries of faith, and assent to them, come from God’s grace, our own free will has a share in meriting, or not meriting, their further increase and extension. “He that hath,” that is, that freely uses and employs. “Hath not,” freely neglects using and properly employing them.
Here, then, the adagial expression means: To you I plainly disclose the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; because, having faith and a desire of further gifts, you faithfully correspond with God’s designs, and, aided by His grace, you profitably employ the gifts already conferred on you. But to the others, “who are without” (Mark 4:11), who, through their own fault, are devoid of faith, and have no desire of knowing the truth, and of profiting by the grace already bestowed, I speak in an obscure way; for, in punishment of their voluntary abuse of My gifts, they may be classed with those “who have not,” who neglect employing the faculties and gifts bestowed on them. “Hath,” manifestly means, “to use;” and “hath not,” to neglect using, the gifts one possesses; because, there is question here of merited rewards and punishment; and the reward conferred on one, and the punishment inflicted on the other, is founded on the use or neglect of the gifts they respectively possessed.
In the words, “but he that hath not, that also which he bath, shall be taken from him.” “Hath not,” means, uses not. “That also which he hath,” means, actually possesses, viz., the knowledge of Divine things, which he has or seems to have—the preaching of the Gospel—which he has hitherto enjoyed; nay, the very natural light of reason, which he has abused, shall, in punishment of this abuse, be taken from him, so that he shall become blinder and blinder still, and in punishment of his ingratitude, delivered up to a reprobate sense.
13. “Because seeing, they see not,” &c. Because, seeing My miracles, and hearing My heavenly doctrines, they are like men who have not the faculty of seeing or hearing; they have no wish to believe or to understand. “Therefore,” it is, in punishment of their perversity, being unwilling to believe or receive what is clear, they deserve to be addressed in an obscure style of language, which they would not understand.
The words of this verse contain an application to the Jewish multitudes, and an illustration or elucidation, of the general proverbial truths of the preceding verse. The application, in the words, “therefore, I speak to them in parables;” the elucidation, in the words, “because hearing, they hear not, seeing, they see not.”
“Neither do they understand,” is a fuller explanation of “seeing and hearing,” which clearly mean, intellectual seeing and hearing.
In Mark (4:12), Luke (8:10), the words are, “that seeing, they may see and not perceive,” &c. This reading is easily explained and reconciled with the reading of St. Matthew here. It is likely, our Redeemer used and meant both forms of expression, so as to intimate that the blindness of this people was partly owing to their own perversity; partly, to the just judgment of God. The word, “that,” expresses, not the end or final cause; but, the consequence or result of their voluntarily closing their eyes. The consequence of their failing and neglecting to profit by God’s grace is, that they are permitted to persevere in the state of blindness and obduracy, in which, we are informed here by St. Matthew, they had been already. In Mark and Luke, is shown how the judgment of taking away is fearfully exercised in the spiritual reprobation of the Jews, who, by Divine permission, are left and abandoned in their blindness and hardness of heart, in punishment of their pride and contempt of grace.
In interpreting this and similar passages, we must utterly abhor the blasphemy of some heretics, who make God the author of sin. In cases of obduracy and impenitence, He, by a just judgment, withdraws His lights and graces, from which the sinner’s obduracy follows as infallibly, as if God had positively blinded and hardened him.
14. “The prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled in them.” The words addressed by Isaias to the men of his own day, have their principal fulfilment in the men of our Redeemer’s time—who were the same people with the Jews who lived in the days of Isaias—and in all others, who at any future period may abuse or neglect the grace of God.
“By hearing, you shall hear,” &c. (Isaias 6:9, &c.) The reading is different in Isaias. According to St. Jerome’s version it is: “Go, and thou shalt say to this people: Hearing, hear and understand not; and see the vision, and know it not. Blind the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy,” &c. In this imperative form, found in the original Hebrew, and literally rendered by St. Jerome, the Prophet is commanded to predict the blindness and obduracy of the Jewish people. St. Matthew here follows the Septuagint version, which, for the imperative, employs a future indicative—a thing by no means unusual with the Hebrews—and explains the meaning of the original words of the Prophet. Hence, “by hearing, you shall hear,” the future indicative, properly expresses the meaning of the imperative words, “hearing, hear,” &c., as a prophecy of the blindness and obduracy which would be permitted, by a just judgment of God, to befall the Jewish people, who obstinately refuse to admit our Redeemer’s Divinity, and the truth of His doctrine, in presence of the many splendid miracles He had performed in their midst.
15. “For, the heart of this people is grown gross,” &c., is a clearer expression, according to the Septuagint version, followed by St. Matthew, of the form employed by the Prophet, “blind the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy;” because, the Prophet could not, from himself, blind their hearts any more than he could enlighten them. Hence, he is only told, “Go and say to this people,” &c., that is, to predict that this melancholy result of spiritual blindness was to take place, which the form used by St. Matthew clearly expresses. Such is the force of a command or imprecation addressed by God to a prophet, that it is generally equivalent to a prediction of the event, or of the evil which God, in His anger, permits. Thus we have, “quod facis, fac citius,” “Solvite templum hoc,” &c. The words of this verse, metaphorically refer to the faculties of the soul, viz., the intellect, and the will.
“And with their ears,” &c., is expressed in the imperative, in the original Hebrew.
“And their eyes they have shut,” also expressed imperatively by the Prophet. They merely convey a prophecy of what was to take place.
The Greek word for, “have shut” (εκαμμυσαν), means, to close the eyelids. Hence, according to the reading adopted by St. Matthew, it is the Jews themselves that, by a voluntary act, have closed their eyes, and shut their ears, against the impressions of Divine grace.
“Lest at any time, they should see with their eyes,” &c. Shows their great perversity in refusing the lights and graces of God. They affected ignorance, lest they should give up sin—“noluit intelligere ut bene ageret” (Psa. 35:4). The words, “lest at any time” (μηποτε), signifies, in the Hebrew, lest, perhaps, as they are translated by St. Luke (Acts 28:27).
“And I should heal them.” The Hebrew, is in the third person, “and they should be healed;” or, healing be granted them—“sanatio sit eis.”
16. He pronounces His Apostles happy—in contrast with the wretched men of Capharnaum, the Scribes and Pharisees, cursed with spiritual blindness—because, they not only saw our Redeemer, and His wonderful works, with the eyes of the body, and heard His sacred preaching, as did the incredulous multitude; but, they saw them with the eyes of their mind, by understanding Him. They also believed in His miracles, and the preaching regarding His Divinity, which they heard.
17. He extols the special privileges and happiness enjoyed by His Apostles, by comparing their lot, not only with that of the incredulous Jews; but, with that of the just of old. They were blessed beyond the Jews of their own day; because, they saw, also spiritually, what the others only saw corporally; and beyond the just of old, who only saw by faith, at a distant futurity, what they had the happiness of seeing in person. The Apostles are blessed beyond the Jews, on account of spiritual vision; beyond the Patriarchs, &c., on account of corporal vision. These latter could only salute from afar, the things that were present to the Apostles.
St. Luke (10:24) has, “Many prophets and kings have desired,” &c.; “Abraham rejoiced that he might see His day” (John 8:56); Jacob “looked for His salvation” (Gen. 49:18). The saints of old yearned for it, and pierced the heavens with their cries—“rorate cœli desuper et nubes pluant justum.” (Isa. 45:8). In this verse, our Redeemer shows the incomparable privilege bestowed on the Apostles; inasmuch, as on them, who were distinguished, neither for exalted rank, nor wisdom, nor justice, were conferred blessings denied to men high in favour with God, remarkable for justice, and clothed with the royal dignity, although anxiously longing to see the Son of God in the flesh.
The words of this verse are by no means opposed to the words, “Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed;” because, in these latter words, the comparison is between those who believe without seeing, and those who, measuring faith by their own vision, believe only the things which they see. The Apostles both saw and believed. Abraham was blessed in believing what he saw not, save at a distant futurity. But the Apostles were still more blessed; because, they clearly saw with the eyes of the body, what he saw only obscurely, at a distance, with the eyes of the mind (Heb. 11:13; 1 Peter 1:10–12).