After Jesus reassured the crowd that John the Baptist was pretty much the greatest man that ever lived, the tax collectors and various others present were satisfied. Not so much the Pharisees and lawyers, who rejected Jesus after rejecting John. Jesus went on to describe their response, or the lack of one.
31 To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.
Pastors and churches like to be relevant, and that is great – to a point. There is a temptation to let our thinking run wild in that direction. We may daydream, “Well, if we can only do this, and add this, talk like this, dress like this, and change the decor to this, then …”
The responses to John the Baptist and Jesus provide some much-needed counterweight to that tendency.
It would be hard to find two personalities or presentation styles that contrasted more starkly than Jesus and John. John was famous for wearing rough clothing, preaching in the wilderness and eating mainly bugs. Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. He never seemed to turn down a free dinner or an invitation to a party. Rather than hanging out strictly in the wilderness, he wandered all over the countryside and traveled by water. He was found in the towns and cities of Galilee, in the synagogues or on the seashore, and then in Jerusalem for the holidays.
The message of both these men, however, was more or less the same. It may have sounded different, or looked different, if one looked at the messenger. But they mainly agreed that repentance from sin was needed, and that good works were a corollary to faith. Jesus drew people to himself, which John did not, but then John also pointed people to Jesus.
In the end what they said differed little. The difference was in how they said it. So what was the difference in response? Well, there was none. The same people who followed John also went after Jesus. Those who rejected John rejected Christ.
Jesus compares his detractors to children in the marketplace that won’t join the game no matter what game is being played.
“Let’s dance!” one shouts, and begins playing a flute. No response.
“How about a nice dirge!” (OK, it’s a weird idea, but Jesus is just making a point.) No response in that case either.
For those of us who are attracted to making the message relevant, let this be a caution. Sometimes, if we are faithful to the message itself, how we say it won’t make any difference.