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So far in this chapter, we have heard about John the Baptist’s questions about the nature of Jesus’ mission. We’ve also taken a look at Jesus’ evaluation of John. In this section the crowd weighs in with their opinion. Jesus uses the term, “this generation,” to describe the popular response to Jesus and John.
Jesus used a parable or a story to illustrate how “this generation” reacted to the respective missions of John and Jesus. Imagine grade school boys and girls on the playground during recess, as you hear Jesus’ words.
He said, “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn” (Matthew 11.16-17).
There was a popular children’s game in Jesus’ day. The girls would play or sing a happy song and the boys were expected to dance a traditional wedding dance. In turn, the boys would sing or play a sad song and the girls imitated the professional mourners at a funeral.
The root complaint of both in Jesus’ parable was that their expectations were not being met. When Jesus said, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10.14), he was clearly not referring to this kind of behavior.
Jesus applied the parable of the children to the generation of people, who ultimately refused the message of both John and Jesus. He said, “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, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” (Matthew 11.18-19).
Like the children, whose expectations were not met by their playmates on the playground, the crowd couldn’t be satisfied by either John or Jesus. John was too rigid and Jesus was too loose for their liking, so they rejected both of them.
My Own Best Thinking
The crowd was not able to appreciate the two most remarkable men to grace planet earth, because they were living out of the pride of their own best thinking. Neither John nor Jesus gave them what they wanted, so they rejected them, murmuring and complaining like the children.
We do well to pause at this point to reflect on our own response to Jesus’ life and ministry.
— What expectations do I have that I think God has failed to meet?
— How am I responding to God during the corona virus pandemic? Am I making demands on God that reflect the attitude of the crowd in Jesus’ day?
— In what way does my pride keep me from hearing God? Do I think, “If God would only do what I want, things would be better?”
— In what way is it easier for me to be critical of Christian leaders than to be faithful to what God has revealed to me to do?
The above questions are aimed at an essential truth. Just as so many of our friends in recovery know that living by our own best thinking will hinder recovery, that phrase also applies to our relationship to God. God is not interested in co-signing on our own best thinking. He has something better for us.
Since we have paused for reflection, let’s pray the Alcoholics Anonymous Third Step Prayer and apply it to our relationship with God. In doing so, we intentionally surrender our expectations and open our minds to receive his directions.
The Third Step Prayer
“God, I offer myself to Thee – To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”
Once again, we pray this prayer with the intention of surrendering our expectations and opening our minds and will to receive his directions for our day.
God’s Wisdom in Action
I absolutely love Jesus’ final word to the crowd. He said, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (verse 19). Jesus backed up his words with deeds. Think back on some of the many lives that were changed by his actions.
— A woman was set free from a debilitating health condition that had plagued her for twelve years.
— A little girl was raised from the dead and a servant of a Roman official was healed with a simple word from Jesus.
— Lepers were cleansed, the blind were made to see, and the deaf were made to hear.
— When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, the poor had the good news of God’s love proclaimed to them.
All the crowd could bring to table was criticism. What Jesus brought was life! And, Jesus hasn’t stopped giving life to people. Let’s be sure to align our lives with Jesus and do our best to not be like the crowd.
Dear Jesus, thank you for the wisdom of your activity for people like us. Thank you that you have given us life. May we fully appreciate your work, even if we don’t understand what is happening all of the time.