Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 18. Marketplace Children?
Mt 11:16-19 To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ” `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, `Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ‘ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”
Our verses above continue directly on from the previous passage that we considered yesterday. John’s disciples had come and gone and Jesus turned to the onlooking crowd and asked them what they thought of John, giving then various possibilities ending with the prophet Elijah.
But he’s going to face how many of them, the religious ones, had spoken about John. Not everyone had accepted him and been baptized. The Pharisees and perhaps some of those from the Temple had gone along to see what was happening, what sort of person he was and did he fit their way of thinking. Many had been negative about him and so Jesus confronts them with this using this picture language.
He likens them to children playing in the market square. You’ve no doubt seen exactly the same sort of thing. One child wants to play one game and another wants a different game and whatever suggestions are made, they don’t seem to be accepted. These children each want to get their own way. That is a sign of immaturity. Look at the detail.
These children, he speaks of, are sitting in the market place. This is their place, their playground, and they challenge and call to other children (v.16). They have tried playing together but there was no agreement. They point out the suggestions they had made: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance.” (v.17a) They had suggested a happy play time, perhaps playing parties, involving dance and rejoicing, but no, they hadn’t wanted to do that. So they had suggested playing at funerals: “we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” (v.17b) In other words, there was no pleasing them – and that is the point of his illustration.
He explains it in relation to John and himself. First John: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `He has a demon.” (v.18) John had had this austere life style, which was too much for the soft-living religious elite from Jerusalem, so they accused him of being demonic. Basically they said he was mad, living out in the desert so sparsely, and ranting like an Old Testament prophet but not having any link or any authority from the religious officials of Judaism in Jerusalem. No, they had not liked him and so they abused him and wrote him off.
And then Jesus had come along with a completely different life style, and they were critical of him: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” (v.19a) They held such a high moral and spiritual (but not in reality) view that they looked down on all that Jesus, did, especially the way he met with and ate with the low life of the land, which we have considered in an earlier study.
Nothing will satisfy these critics because they ARE critics, first and foremost, and everything else follows from that. Very often there are people who have settled in a particular lifestyle or particular life attitude and it is one that is determined to see the worst of everything and be critical about whatever they can be critical. I believe the media (TV reporting and newspapers) often appear to be like this in the way they report and challenge, first one thing then another. Nothing, but nothing, that the government can do will be right. The media have so often become the Pharisees of today, declaring a moral high-ground that looks down on and demeans any who do not utterly agree with them (or their proprietor directing in the background). It is a sad sight.
But in respect of Jesus, consider what he has been teaching in the studies we have done, all in response to the coming of John’s disciples: first that his ministry is not a time for mourning (9:15), then that the old traditions will not sit comfortably with the life he brings (9:16,17), and now that it doesn’t matter whether it was John’s austerity or Jesus’ joyful freedom, the religious traditionalists are just not going to be happy!
I have lived through a period of history where many new ministries have arisen and the Lord has brought much new teaching to the Church. The example I usually cite is that of the teaching on ‘the body of Christ’. It must have been forty years ago that I first ever heard anyone speak on it and it took the subsequent Charismatic Movement and the Restoration Movement (you’ve never heard of these – you have some reading to do on recent Church history!) to develop these, but some forty years of so ago, it was an unknown teaching, but it was there very obviously in the Bible.
Out of all this comes the question, how do we react when a new ministry arises somewhere around the globe that attracts the Christian media? Cautious openness, I suggest, is the best approach. Remember the “by their fruit you will know them” test. But does it bring real, genuine life, life transformation for the deaf and the blind, cleansing for modern day lepers, goodness and love into society?
But, Jesus concludes, “wisdom is proved right by her actions.” (v.19b) The JBP paraphrase puts it, “Ah, well, wisdom stands or falls by her own actions,” and the Message puts it, “Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” I like that. Watch to see how it will all work out. If the characteristics of God, His love and goodness are in it, that’s a good start. If it brings love and life and goodness and righteous freedom in people, that is a good sign. If it’s weird and a bit freaky, watch from a distance and the fruit will become obvious.
Ultimately when this sort of questioning arises, check your own life and the life of others against the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22,23 and then check and see if Jesus’ ministry, summarised either in Mt 11:5,6 and Lk 4:18,19, is in operation. This is really all about holding a careful balance between being open to all that Jesus has for us, and discerning that which is not quite right (or even right off mark!). But, at the end of it, may we not be like Jesus’ ‘market-place children’ who can never be satisfied by whatever doesn’t conform to our own self-centred wishes.