Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Matthew 13:31-35; Mark 4:26-34;
31. He delivered another parable to them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard, which a man took and sowed in his field: 32. Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown up, it is the largest among herbs, 220 and becometh a tree, so that the fowls of heaven come and make their nests among its branches. 33. He spake another parable to them: The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid among three measures of meal, till the whole was leavenened. 34. All these things Jesus spoke in parables to the multitudes, and without a parable he spoke nothing to them. 35. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, who saith, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been hidden from the foundation of the world.
26. And he said, The kingdom of God is as if a man should cast seed into the ground, 27. And sleep, and rise by night and day, and the corn should spring and grow up, while knoweth not how. 28. For the earth yieldeth fruit of itself, first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear. 29. And when the fruit is matured, he immediately applieth the sickle, because the harvest is at hand. 30. And he said, To what shall we say that the kingdom of God is like? or with what comparison shall we compare it? 31. As a grain of mustard, which, when it is sown in the earth, is smaller than all the seeds which are in the earth; 32. And when it is sown, it springs up, and is larger than all herbs, 221 and putteth forth great branches, so that the fowls of heaven can make their nests under its shadow. 33. And by such parables he spake the word to them, as they were able to bear it: 34. But without a parable he did not speak to them, but he explained all things to his disciples when they were apart.
18. Therefore he said, To what is the kingdom of God like? and to what shall I compare it? 19. It is like a grain of mustard, which a man took and cast into his garden, and it grew, and became a large tree, and the fowls of the air made their nests among its branches. 20. And again he said, To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21. It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. 22. And he went through the cities and villages, teaching and journeying towards Jerusalem.
By these parables Christ encourages his disciples not to be offended and turn back on account of the mean beginnings of the Gospel. We see how haughtily profane men despise the Gospel, and even turn it into ridicule, because the ministers by whom it is preached are men of slender reputation and of low rank; because it is not instantly received with applause by the whole world; and because the few disciples whom it does obtain are, for the most part, men of no weight or consideration, and belong to the common people. This leads weak minds to despair of its success, which they are apt to estimate from the manner of its commencement. On the contrary, the Lord opens his reign with a feeble and despicable commencement, for the express purpose, that his power may be more fully illustrated by its unexpected progress. 222
The kingdom of God is compared to a grain of mustard, which is the smallest among the seeds, but grows to such a height that it becomes a shrub, in which the birds build their nests. It is likewise compared to leaven, which, though it may be small in amount, spreads its influence in such a manner, as to impart its bitterness to a large quantity of meal. 223 If the aspect of Christ’s kingdom be despicable in the eyes of the flesh, let us learn to raise our minds to the boundless and incalculable power of God, which at once created all things out of nothing, and every day raises up things that are not, (1Co 1:28,) in a manner which exceeds the capacity of the human senses. Let us leave to proud men their disdainful laugh, till the Lord, at an unexpected hour, shall strike them with amazement. Meanwhile, let us not despond, but rise by faith against the pride of the world, till the Lord give us that astonishing display of his power, 224 of which he speaks in this passage.
The word leaven is sometimes taken in a bad sense, as when Christ warns them to
beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees,
and when Paul says, that
a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,
But here the term must be understood simply as applying to the present subject. As to the meaning of the phrase, the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of heaven, we have spoken on former occasions.
Mark 4:26. So is the kingdom of God. Though this comparison has the same object with the two immediately preceding, yet Christ appears to direct his discourse purposely to the ministers of the word, that they may not grow indifferent about the discharge of their duty, because the fruit of their labor does not immediately appear. He holds out for their imitation the example of husbandmen, who throw seed into the ground with the expectation of reaping, and do not torment themselves with uneasiness and anxiety, but go to bed and rise again; or, in other words, pursue their ordinary and daily toil, till the corn arrive at maturity in due season. In like manner, though the seed of the word be concealed and choked for a time, Christ enjoins pious teachers to be of good courage, and not to allow their alacrity to be slackened through distrust.
Matthew 13:34. All these things Jesus spoke in parables. Though Mark expressly says, that Christ spoke the word to them as they were able to bear it, yet I think it probable that he continued to employ parables, not so much for the purpose of instruction, as to keep the attention of his hearers awake till a more convenient time. For why did he explain them familiarly to his disciples when they were apart? Was it because they were more slow of apprehension than the great body of the people? No; but because he wished to convey to them privately a knowledge of his meaning, and to allow others to remain in a state of suspense, till a fitter opportunity should arrive. These were only a sort of introduction to the Gospel, the full brightness and publication of which was delayed till the proper time.
There is an apparent contradiction between this statement of Matthew and the prediction of Isaiah, which was quoted a little before. But this is easily removed; for, though he withdrew the light of doctrine from the reprobate, yet this did not prevent him from accommodating himself to their capacity, so as to render them inexcusable. He therefore adopted a method of teaching which was proper and suitable to hearers, whom he knew to be not yet sufficiently prepared to receive instruction.
35. That it might be fulfilled Matthew does not mean, that the psalm, which he quotes, is a prediction which relates peculiarly to Christ, but that, as the majesty of the Spirit was displayed in the discourse of the Prophet, in the same manner was his power manifested in the discourse of Christ. The Prophet, when he is about to speak of God’s covenant, by which he adopted the seed of Abraham, of the benefits which he continued to bestow upon his people, and of the whole government of the Church, introduces his subject in lofty terms, I will open my mouth in parables, (Ps 78:2:) that is, “I will not speak of trifling matters, but will handle with becoming gravity subjects of the highest importance.” When he adds, I will utter dark sayings, the meaning is the same; such repetitions being very frequent in the Psalms. The Hebrew word משלים, (Meshalim) signifies comparisons; and it came afterwards to be applied to “weighty sentences,” because comparisons generally impart beauty and energy to a discourse. The word חידות (Chidoth) sometimes denotes “riddles,” and at other times, “short sayings.”
Now though Matthew seems to allude to the word parable, he undoubtedly means, that Christ spoke figuratively, in order that his very style, being more brilliant than ordinary discourse, might carry more weight and dignity. In short, he says that what is contained in the psalm was fulfilled; because the use of allegories and figures tended to show, that Christ was treating of the hidden mysteries of God, and to prevent his doctrine from being despised. Hence, too, we infer, that there was no inconsistency in the various objects which Christ had in view, when he spoke to the people in a dark manner. Though he intended to conceal from the reprobate what he was saying, yet he labored to make them feel, even in the midst of their amazement, that there was something heavenly and divine in his language. 225
Luke 13:22. Journeying towards Jerusalem. It is uncertain whether Luke speaks only of one journey, or means that, while Christ walked throughout Judea, and visited each part of it for the purpose of teaching, he was wont to go up to Jerusalem at the festivals. The former clause, certainly, appears to describe that course of life which Christ invariably pursued, from the time that he began to discharge the office which had been committed to him by the Father. To make the latter clause agree with this, the meaning will be, that, when the festivals were at hand, he attended, along with others, 226 the holy assemblies.
“Il est plus grand que les autres herbes;” — “it is larger than the other herbs.”
“Que toute autre herbe;” — “than every other herb.”
“A fin que sa puissance soit tant mieux cognue, quand on verra les avancemens qu’on n’avoit iamais attendus;” — “in order that his power may be so much the better known, when the progress, which had not been anticipated, shall be seen.”
“Qu’il fait aigrir et lever une grande quantite de paste;” — “that it embitters and causes to rise a large quantity of paste.”
“Iuques a ce que le Seigneur nous face sentir l’effect de cette vertu incomprehensible;” — “till the Lord make us feel the effect of that incomprehensible power.”
“Car combien qu’il voulust parler en telle sorte que les reprouvez n’y entendissent rien, il a toutesfois tellement modere son style, qu’en leur stupidite ils ont senti que son parler avoit quelque vertu celeste et Divine;” — “for, though he intended to speak in such a manner, that the reprobate might understand nothing of it, yet he was so regulated in his style that, amidst their stupidity, they felt that his manner of speaking had some Divine and heavenly power.”
“Sa coustume estoit de se trouver;” — “his custom was to be present.”