“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
(Matthew 11:16-19 ESV)
Yesterday Jesus praised John the Baptist. But as great as John was, he had his critics. So did Jesus. In today’s passage Jesus exposes the critical nature of the people of His day which prevented them from accepting John and Jesus for who they were. As we study this passage we’ll realize that, sadly, people living today have the same critical tendencies.
Jesus’ opening question, to what shall I compare this generation?, reflects a common Hebrew manner of introducing an illustration. It is the equivalent of saying “How shall I put this?” Jesus is going to explain the attitude of the people of that generation towards the gospel message which both He and John the Baptist had presented.
Jesus compares the general population to children in the marketplace who call to their friends to play a game. Parents who sold wares in the market would have brought their children with them rather than leaving them home unattended. As children will do, they would play with each other while there.
Children like to copy the adult world and evidentially there were two games children played back then: “wedding” and “funeral”. In the “wedding” game some children would play a pretend flute and the other children were expected to dance. In the “funeral” game some children would sing a dirge and the other children would mourn. But in Jesus’ illustration the children did not dance or mourn as expected – they rejected both options.
In a similar manner, Jesus says, the people rejected both John and Him. John lived an ascetic lifestyle (neither eating or drinking) and was criticized for being demon possessed. Jesus, on the other hand, lived just the opposite lifestyle – He mixed with society (eating and drinking). Yet the people also criticized Him for being a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
Note that Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But His critics looked upon this with disdain. They used this phrase in an effort to impugn Jesus’ character. Just like the children were not satisfied with a happy game or sad game, the people were not accepting of either John or Jesus.
Some people cannot be satisfied. They have already made up their minds they are not going to believe and will therefore find fault with any presentation of the gospel message. But wisdom is proven by results (deeds).
The results of the gospel speak for themselves in the form of lives changed from despair to hope, from anger to peace, from self-centeredness to humility. Those who reject Jesus will someday find that their decision lacked wisdom.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.