“To what can I compare the people of this generation?” Jesus asked. “How can I describe them? They are like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you didn’t dance, so we played funeral songs, and you didn’t weep.’ For John the Baptist didn’t spend his time eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it. ”Luke 7:31-35
Note how Luke’s account of this passage opens with a double question.
- “To what can I compare the people of this generation?”
- “How can I describe them?
Some think this indicates Jesus was having trouble finding an example. I don’t think that is the case at all. I think the double question strengthens the absurdity and childishness of their reaction. Whose reaction? The people, the crowd before Him? We have no indication they have done anything which deserves rebuke. Some commentators think what lies behind this is a dispute between Jesus disciples and John disciples. That at another moment in time there was controversy between the two groups. But we have no evidence for that either. The problem appears to be that Jesus said, ‘to what can I compare this generation?’ not the Pharisees per se but this generation. I would say Pharisees or not, the pharisaical spirit runs far and wide among us all. It doesn’t have to be limited to members of Pharisees as such. It can appear in anyone of us.
This continuing segment is dependent on verses 29 and 30 for its anchor where Luke writes:
- “all the people – even the tax collectors – agreed that God’s way was right, for they had been baptized by John.
- But the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God’s plan for them, for they had refused John’s baptism.”
They are like children! Who? The crowd? No, the pharisees and experts in religious law. You, who should know better, are like children. The children gathered in the public square when there was no market to place in the open space. They’re depicted as playing a game and singing. “We played wedding songs and you didn’t dance. We played funeral songs and you didn’t weep.” These words are poetic and include the rhyme and rhythm of song.
This is typical of children who make up little games to contrive emotions. “I will say this and then you say that.” “We’ll pretend this and then you do that.” All of it carefully structured and organized as kids do. These are playing wedding games and funeral games it seems. But are they really? Are kids games really being played or is Jesus taking the analogy of children’s games when He looks at the behaviour of the Pharisees and experts in the law. It is like they are playing games. The comparative [homoioi] “like” is repeated twice in the original Greek. “What are they like? They are like children . . . The behaviour of the Pharisees and teachers of the law is childishness. They seek to contrive and manipulate human emotions at a whim. It is LIKE Jesus is saying, You guys are never happy. John the Baptist comes not eating and drinking and you say He has a demon. The Son of Man comes eating and drinking and you say He is a glutton and a drunkard. This is farcical. One minute you are against NOT eating and drinking and the next minute you are against eating and drinking. To eat and drink or not to eat and drink; both are damned. How ridiculous! It is LIKE the Pharisees and their cronies are just against something, anything if it concerns Jesus and the kingdom of God. Pick a side any side and it’s bound to be wrong in their eyes.
This is a powerful illustration Jesus used to focus on the reactions of the Pharisees and experts in the law. The experts in the law (Pharisees and teachers of the law) have rejected God’s plan for themselves and then proceed to make it hard for everyone else. This is what Matthew says when he uses the illustration in 23:13, 15 of not entering themselves but shutting up heaven to everyone else as well. It’s like sour grapes, “if I can’t have it then neither will you.” They are controllers and manipulators of emotions.
What does it mean John came not eating bread and drinking wine? Note too that Luke adds the words bread and wine. Matthew just has to two sets of eating or drinking. There are two interpretations to these words and both are likely meant. John didn’t eat bread nor drink wine. These were the normal symbols of social interaction when dining or spending time together. Bread and wine was the social glue. But in John’s case bread and wine is used as something else. Bread and wine is normality, yet John was not normal by any stretch of the imagination. John did not eat bread and wine because he had a totally different diet. This verse then is more likely a reference to the fact that John was out there in the wilderness with his strange diet and strange clothes and was criticised for it. Jesus came dining with tax collectors and sinners and he was criticised for that too. The issue is a question of life style rather than particular practice – perhaps. It is even likely that people criticised John and infer he was possessed by demon for living like he did.
But there is another level on which these verses can be interpreted. Remember the criticism of the Pharisees over fasting (Luke 5:33-35) Big issues then of Jesus and His disciples feasting while John’s disciples were fasting. Big controversy over the contrast. That has not been forgotten. It is being brought front and centre again too. John and his disciples fasted – I.e. didn’t eat and drink. In 5:33-35 they seem to be commended and Jesus and his team are condemned. Another instance clearly where the Pharisees have switched sides in the argument. You can never predict which side of the debate they are going to take issue with next. The issue is not about truth its about finding fault. Hence Jesus depicts their actions as being inconsistent and random like children. It is also true to say children will often “pack a sad”, mope and put on a sour face and don’t want to join in. They separate themselves because they are not getting their own way. Pick up their bat and ball and go home. Is the behaviour of the Pharisees and experts in the law any different to that? They are not getting their way and so they become hypercritical.
There is huge debate among the experts (commentators) as to who is meant by children. The Pharisees and expert in the law, Jesus or Jesus and his disciples, John and his disciples. I am not getting into all that. I think it is simple as I explained above. I work on the KISS principle – keep it simple Stupid. If there is a simple explanation go with that. I think what I have explained above fits well. I think it is also interesting that the order of the elements not eating and drinking and then eating and drinking fit the chronological order of John and Jesus. I think all the pieces fit well. Time for you to work out the rest for yourself.
That leaves just one more element to comment on – But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it. Literally Luke’s version is wisdom is personified by her children – the practitioners. Matthew’s version is wisdom is personified by her deeds – the end results, fruits if you like. But essentially they mean the same thing. Again there is much debate here about the preposition used and what it means. The most natural and simplest reading for [apo] is by – by her children; by her deeds. I think it is clear the children meant here are the disciples of Jesus and John as contrasted with the pharisees etc. Those who follow [God’s] Wisdom will be manifestly wise. It will be apparent where truth is. It will be apparent and obvious when your life is based on truth. Just as it will be apparent and obvious when it isn’t (Pharisees). In rejecting God’s plan the Pharisees and others backed themselves into a corner with their confusion. That much is clear as I hope too this section is now clear when and how it fits the with the rest.
Next Gem we move to a new section with overtones of the same themes.
My Mother-In-Law keeps asking why we haven’t had children. I figured having a husband AND a child would be redundant.Anon
What’s the difference between your husband and your children? Your children grow-up and leave.Anon
We don’t grow absolutely chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension and not in another, unevenly. We are mature in one realm, childish in another.Anais Nim
You are never too old to become younger!Mae West
Clearly there is no age limit for childish behaviour.Wes Fessler
It is the ignorant and childish part of man that is the fighting part.Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Paul of Tarsus1 Corinthians 13:11
The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.John Maxwel