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(1-20) He began.—See Notes on Matthew 13:1-23.
(2) In his doctrine.—Better, in His teaching.
(3) A sower.—Better, the sower.
(8) Some thirty . . .—For the most part the parable is almost verbally identical with that in St. Matthew. Here, however, we note the difference, sufficient to establish a certain measure of independence, of an ascending instead of a descending scale.
(10) They that were about him.—In St. Matthew, simply, “the disciples.” Here the presence of others besides the Twelve is directly asserted.
(11) Unto them that are without.—The form of the phrase is peculiar to St. Mark; St. Matthew giving, “to them,” and St. Luke, “to the rest.”
(12) That seeing they may see. . . .—St. Mark characteristically gives the words of Isaiah 6:9, but not as a quotation, and perhaps in a less accurate form, and omits the addition in Matthew, “Blessed are your ears . . .” The form in this instance, at first sight, suggests the thought that our Lord’s purpose was to produce the blindness and deafness of which He speaks. The real meaning of the words is, however, plain. This was to be the result of the wilful blindness of those who rejected Him; and the acceptance of a foreseen result was, in Hebrew forms of thought, expressed as the working out of an intention. (See Notes on Matthew 13:14-15.)
(13) How then will ye know all parables?—The question is peculiar to St. Mark, and suggests the thought of our Lord as contemplating for His disciples an ever-growing insight, not only into His own spoken parables, but into those of nature and of life. But if they were such slow scholars in this early stage, how was that insight to be imparted? The question is followed up by the answer. The first lesson in interpreting is given in that which is a pattern and exemplar of the method of interpretation.
(15) In their hearts.—The better MSS. give simply, “in them.”
(21) Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel?—See Note on Matthew 5:15. St. Mark, it will be noted, omits all the other parables that follow in St. Matthew, and connects with that of the Sower sayings more or less proverbial, which in St. Matthew appear in a different context. Looking at our Lord’s method of teaching by the repetition of proverbs under different aspects and on different occasions, it is not unlikely that this of the “candle” was actually spoken in the connection in which we find it here. Their knowledge of the meaning of the parable was not given them for themselves alone, but was to shine forth to others. We probably owe to the saying so uttered the record of this parable given in three out of the four Gospels.
(22) For there is nothing hid.—This also is found elsewhere (e.g., in Matthew 10:26). The Greek word here for “secret” is interesting as being the same as that which we find in our word “Apocrypha.” The term was, in the first instance, applied to books that were surrounded with the secrecy of a spurious sacred-ness, but were not publicly recognised in the Church as being of divine authority, and was then transferred to all books which, whether “spurious” or “secret,” wanted that recognition.
(24) With what measure ye mete.—See Note on Matthew 7:2. The proverb furnishes a good illustration of what has just been said as to our Lord’s method of presenting the same truth under different aspects. In the Sermon on the Mount it appears as the law of retribution, which brings pardon to those who pardon, judgment without mercy to those who show no mercy. Here the law works in another region. With the measure with which we mete our knowledge, God will. in His bounty, bestow more knowledge upon us. The old maxim, Docendo disces (“Thou wilt learn by teaching”), becomes here more than the lesson of experience, and is one with the divine law of equity.
(25) For he that hath.—See Note on Matthew 13:12.
(26) As if a man should cast seed into the ground.—What follows has the special interest of being the only parable peculiar to St. Mark, one therefore which had escaped the manifest eagerness of St. Matthew and St. Luke to gather up all that they could find of this form of our Lord’s teaching. It runs to some extent parallel with the parable of the Sower, as though it had been given as another and easier lesson in the art of understanding parables; and if we assume a connection between St. Mark and St. Peter, it may be regarded as having in this way made a special impression on the mind of the Apostle. Like many other parables, it finds an interpretation in the analogous phenomena of the growth of the Kingdom (1) in the world at large, (2) in the heart of each individual. Speaking roughly, the Sower is, as before, either the Son of Man or the preacher of His word, and the ground falls under one or other of the heads just defined in the previous parable, with, perhaps, a special reference to the good ground.
(27) And should sleep, and rise.—So it was in the world’s history. Men knew not the greatness of the new force that had been brought into action. Philosophers and statesmen ignored it. Even the very preachers of the new faith, the “sowers” of the parable, were hardly conscious of the enormous revolution which they were working. So it is in the individual life. The seemingly chance word, the new truth that flashes on the soul as a revelation, the old words now for the first time apprehended in their true force, these prove to be the seeds of a new growth in the soul.
(28) The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself.—Stress is laid on the spontaneity of growth; and the lesson drawn from it is obviously one at once of patience and of faith. It is not well in the spiritual husbandry, either of the nations of the world or of individual souls, to be taking up the seeds to see whether they are growing. It is wiser to sow the seed, and to believe that sun and rain will quicken it. Thus, the words find an interesting parallel, like, and yet different, in the precept of Ecclesiastes 11:6, “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand.”
First the blade, then the ear.—Following the same lines as before, we have (1) three stages in the growth of the Church of Christ in the field of the world, and (2) three like stages representing the influence of the new truth on thoughts, purposes, acts, in the individual soul.
(29) He putteth in the sickle.—From one point of view, here again, the harvest is the end of the world (Matthew 13:39), and the putting in the sickle is the coming of Christ to judge. (Comp. the use of the same image in Revelation 14:14-18.) From the other, the harvest is the end of each man’s life, and the sickle is in the hands of the Angel of Death.
(30) With what comparison shall we compare it?—Literally, By what parable shall we set it forth? The question which introduces the parable is in St. Mark and St. Luke, but not in St. Matthew. It gives us the impression of a question asked, in order to put the minds of the hearers on the stretch, so that they might welcome the answer.
(31-32) It is like a grain of mustard seed.—See Notes on Matthew 13:31-32. Slight variations in this report are (1) the “great branches,” and (2) the birds lodging “under the shadow” of the tree.
(33-34) And with many such parables.—See Notes on Matthew 13:34-35. St. Mark’s omission of the reference to Psalms 78:2, and his addition of “as they were able to hear it,” are, each of them, characteristic. It may be noted that the “many such parables” of St. Mark imply something like the series which we find in St. Matthew.
(34) He expounded.—The word may be noted as being the verb from which is formed the noun “interpretation” in 2 Peter 1:20, and so takes its place in the coincidences of phraseology which connect that Epistle with this Gospel. (See Introduction.)
(35-41) And the same day.—Better, in that day. See Notes on Matthew 8:23-27. The connection of the events, as given by St. Mark, seems to be precise enough, but it differs widely from that in St. Matthew and St. Luke, and it must remain uncertain which was the actual order.
The other side.—The voyage was from Capernaum—from the west to the east side of the lake.
(36) They took him even as he was.—The phrase is peculiar to this Gospel, and seems to point to the impression made on the mind of St. Mark’s informant by the utter exhaustion that followed on the long day’s labours. St. John’s statement that our Lord, on His journey through Samaria, “being wearied . . . sat thus on the well” (John 4:6), presents an interesting parallel.
(37) Beat into the ship, so that it was now full.—Better, were beating upon the ship, so that it was filling. Both verbs describe continuous action.
(38) Asleep on a pillow.—Better, on the pillow—the cushion commonly to be found in the boat’s stern.
Carest thou not that we perish?—St. Mark alone gives this touch of despairing expostulation, in which we trace the specific want of faith which was afterwards reproved.
(39) Peace, be still.—Literally, be still, be silenced, The latter word is the same as that used of the man who had not on a wedding garment, and was “speechless” (Matthew 22:12). Note the vividness with which St. Mark gives the very words addressed to the raging sea, as though it were a hostile power rising in rebellion against its true Lord.
The wind ceased.—Better, lulled.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Mark 4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27