Scripture: Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
We have all been there. Perhaps we’ve been in the situation where nothing we do seems to please someone else. Maybe that’s our boss, our spouse, our children or our parents. It doesn’t matter how many times we try to succeed or to please them we end up failing or falling short.
On the other side of the coin, perhaps there have been times when others around us have failed to live up to our expectations. We set the standard so high that no one an achieve it. Or perhaps we deliberately keep moving the bar so that no one is able to be successful.
I suspect that at different times in our lives we’ve found ourselves on either side of this coin. Today’s passage from Matthew features something like this. Jesus is speaking toa crowd of onlookers in this passage. His disciples and some of John the Baptist’s followers are mixed in with the crowd. As they are listening Jesus says the following words:
“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’” (Matt 11: 16-17)
Jesus is talking about how nothing seems to please people.
Jesus continues, “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, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Matt 11:18-19).
Jesus is telling us that while John lived out his ministry one way and that Jesus himself lived another, still both found themselves to be the source of criticism. John didn’t eat or drink, and therefore had a demon. Jesus came eating and drinking and was referred to as a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus knows the truth of things. Jesus knows that wisdom will vindicate in the end. Jesus knows he can’t please all people and in fact he isn’t trying. Jesus isn’t trying to please people at all. He isn’t concerned if you like him or if I like him. He doesn’t care if the Romans or the Pharisees like him. Truth is, I suspect that if we met Jesus today, we wouldn’t like him. He wouldn’t hang out at the restaurants we like or with people we might want to associate with.
This passage has one of the clearest pictures of what Jesus was like. Jesus himself tells us he came eating and drinking. Jesus tells us who he was hanging out with and it’s the people that the rest of society didn’t want anything to do with.
And so we are left with two possible conclusions. Two responses to how we might live out the ministry we’ve been called to as followers of Christ. We can disapprove of others we meet and cast judgment in their direction. Hardening our hearts and becoming callous to their suffering.
Or we can acknowledge heavenly wisdom and offer rest to those whom we meet. Jesus tells us, “…my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:30)
Now there is probably a catch here. There usually is, it can’t be this simple can it?
The question we might ask ourselves immediately as we read this passage is, what do we do with the statement about generations? We might know the generation that Jesus was speaking to. The people who were present with him at that time. However, let’s ensure we are parsing out these passages appropriately. Jesus is clearly trying to make a point about someone, but who?
It probably isn’t the Jewish audience that is right in front of him. Pay close attention to the pronouns that are used. Jesus begins by saying ‘you’ (second person plural) as he addresses those who are in front of him and finishes with ‘they say’ (third person plural).
We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance; we wailed and you did not mourn. The ‘You’ being referenced isn’t you. It’s Jesus and the disciples. Then Jesus switches to referencing them and they say, ‘He has a demon’ … and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ The they that are being referenced is not the crowd of onlookers. The individuals referenced are likely the Pharisees. And here is where you need to pay attention to what you have read and what you will read because there aren’t accidents in scripture. These aren’t random stories for us to figure out or feel good about.
Go back a few chapters in Matthew 9:10-11 we find, “as Jesus was “at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”
Reading forward into Matthew 12, “all the crowds (?chloi) were amazed and said, ‘Is this not the son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons, that this man casts out demons.’” ( Nicholas Schaser – https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-14/commentary-on-matthew-1116-19-25-30-6#)
Matthew describes different groups of people in different ways and he is very consistent about it. This provides us with clues about what is occurring.
Jesus concludes, “Yet, wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matthew 11:19b). By referring to wisdom’s works after a parable about Pharisaic “children” who criticize eating habits, Matthew pushes readers back to verses from Proverbs that encourage hungry children let divine wisdom dictate their deeds: “Will [God] not repay all according to their deeds? My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, you will find a future, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:12-14). (Nicholas Schaser – https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-14/commentary-on-matthew-1116-19-25-30-6#)
Matthew is referencing many things in this passage. A passage that we might normally only focus on the final sentence “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” However, in bringing us to this conclusion Matthew tells us a great deal about the character of Jesus. He reminds of who Jesus has come to minister to and who Jesus has come to serve. The outcasts, the sinners, the despised and those looked down upon by the rest of society. Jesus comes for them and attempts to show the rest how they have errored in their ways.
Richard Rohr writes, “It’s rather obvious that Jesus spends most of his ministry standing with the ones accused of unworthiness, the so-called bad people, the demonized. It is actually rather scandalous how the only way he tries to change them is by loving and healing them, never accusing anybody but the accusers themselves. His social program is solidarity.
“This demands our own ongoing transformation, our changing places, and even a new identity, as Jesus shows in his great self-emptying (Philippians 2:6–7). He stood in solidarity with the problem itself, hardly ever with specific answers for people’s problems. This was his strategy and therefore it is ours.” (Richard Rohr – https://cac.org/daily-meditations/solidarity-is-jesus-strategy-2023-07-06/)
This is who Jesus is. This is what the gospels tell us.
The question we must ask, is the very question that Jesus asks right out of the gate. But to what will I compare this generation?
What will Jesus call our generation?
What will Jesus say about us? Where do we stand? Who do we stand with? Will we be accused of standing with tax collectors and the sinners of today’s world. And if we don’t get accused of that, how sure are we that we are following in the footsteps of Jesus? Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
Donate to St. Andrew's
Thank you for visiting St. Andrew’s. It’s our prayer that this sermon was helpful to your walk of faith. We would ask you to prayerful consider donating to the mission of St. Andrew’s. You can make an online donation through our website.