The Parable of the Children in the Marketplace
Jesus laments in Matthew 17, "You unbelieving and perverse generation. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" Have you ever felt frustrated and disappointed with the indifferent, blasé people that follow Christ?
In Matthew 11, Jesus spoke other frustrated words to a crowd of people that were following him. At the time he was deeply saddened because his friend (and cousin) John the Baptist was in prison. He must have known that John would die soon. People were coming to watch Jesus and John not because of the truth and life offered, but mostly they came to gawk as if Jesus and John were a road side attraction. To these people they were no better than sideshow freaks.
In his day, those rubbernecking at his miracles made any excuse they could to get out of becoming true disciples. Don't we hear the same thing today, even from the pews and pulpit? "Oh, we can't have that kind of liturgy, it's too contemporary." Or others might say, "No, they are too traditional in the way they worship Jesus. I'll take up my cross, but not in that way." They approach Jesus, but their deeds speak otherwise.
So, we find the Pharisee's of Jesus day making similar excuses that being truly joyful is not the way a true religious person, while others made the excuse that being truly repentant is too difficult. In his disappointment, Jesus told them a mini-parable:
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
“‘We played the pipe 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 deeds.”
People of Jesus' day didn't want to repent for their sins. And the Pharisees didn't want to free people of the burden of sin.
The English Standard Version translates Matthew 11:16 and gives us a keen sense of the difference between the children and the playmates: "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates."
It's the playmates that are the focus of Jesus' condemnation, not the children. The playmates are the ones being called into the kingdom of God, but they don't listen. The children call them with shouts of joy and acclamation, but the childish religious types don't come. The children call them to repentance from their sin, yet the childish ones don't come. Rather, it's the child-like, humble, overjoyed child of God who falls into the arms of Jesus.
Jesus ends this mini-parable with words that should wake us all up. He states boldly, "But wisdom is proved right by her deeds." God in his great wisdom and omniscience, knows that when he calls all people back to him, his children will come. Though he freely opens his gates widely to all, only his children are the ones who will approach him confidently. His methods are perfect. He calls the sinner home. We come mourning our sin and bursting with joy.
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me."
Come to Jesus. Come to him without reservation. Come sinners with shouts of joy and shouts of acclamation!