By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 5, 2020
Matthew 11:16–19, 25-30 (ESV)
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
But what shall I compare this generation? This is one of the oddest statements I feel Jesus spoke, yet it is a statement that sparks my imagination. It is as if Jesus is gathering all of history to this very moment and distilling all that occurred into one single sentence. Is that something that we could do? Could we even attempt do that with the minimal history of our nation? I say minimal because in the scope of history our nation is young. The two hundred and forty-four years of our nation pales to the history seen in Europe. There is a bar in Ireland that has been in continuous operation for over one thousand years. A bar, a single business has been open five times longer than our country has been in existence. Imagine all that we have seen and heard, every accomplishment and every disaster and describing it in one single sentence.
We try to do this when we think of statements to place on grave markers. We are asked questions by psychologist, wanting us to determine how we would like the world to remember us. I do not spend a great deal of time walking through cemeteries but when I was in school one of my jobs was to mow for the township, this mowing job included mowing the various roadsides as well as one of the cemeteries. I would go out one day and ride back and forth between the various markers, and then I would get out the weed eater and would trim the grass from around these stones. I would look at the names, I would read the statements and the dates. I would wonder what disease might have swept through a community when there were similar dates. I would be saddened by the stones of children and was surprised when some of those children were the children of people I knew, yet never knew of the child. Stone after stone, I got to be familiar with these stones, I would build stories of various adventure the people may have had. And remember this would have been in the 80’s and 90’s so most of the stories I imagined were based in the computer game the Oregon Trail, so most everyone there probably died of fever or dysentery. But there were words that could be found on most of the stones: Husband, wife, father, mother, grandmother, grandfather. All of history distilled into one single statement and that statement by in large revolves around our relationships.
As I thought about this week’s passage I thought about this cemetery. I do not really know why, probably because the memorial stone is the last statement, we make to those yet living. Jesus says, “How shall I compare this generation?” How would he describe the culmination of history to that point? He says, “it’s like children calling out to their playmates in the marketplace.” I want us to stop and consider this. “I played a flute and you did not dance, I sung a dirge and you did not mourn.”
Have you ever really considered what Jesus might be saying? Jesus spoke these words as the crowds were asking questions about the coming Messiah. A group of John the Baptist’s disciple approach and ask Jesus if he was for sure the one that John spoke about. This is one of the few times we can see John the Baptist as vulnerable, he boldly taught on the banks of the Jordan, but at this moment he is in Herod’s prison awaiting his execution. He is facing death because he prophetically spoke the truth of the kingdom, and now as the time draws near, he himself is wondering if he invested his life well.
It is ok to have questions and doubt. The world around us is changes rapidly and at times it does challenge our faith. We can live our entire lives thinking we understand God, and then in a moment something happens in our life that causes us to question the very existence of the one we believed. When terrorists flew airliners into the world trade center, it rattled my life. That event started me into a crisis of faith, and I began to question things. I thought that God would protect a Christian nation, I thought we were a Christian nation, and suddenly I had to question our Friend’s testimony of peace because some people that reject the God I know are attacking us. That event started a war, a war that has been raging for most of my oldest son’s life. And as it has continued, I have gone through other seasons of doubt. The thing about doubt in discipleship is there is a place to seek answers.
John’s disciples had whole heartedly followed their teacher. They loved their teacher and their teacher boldly preached. He was not afraid to challenge those that held power in the seats of government or religion. Yet even that bold teacher had seasons of doubt because each of us have ideas about God. Each of us have a box we like to put our understanding of God into, and when something happens outside those confines, we get nervous.
“What should we compare this generation to,” Jesus asks, “it is like children calling to their playmates saying we played the flute and you did not dance, and we played a dirge and you did not mourn.” What do we see when we read this passage? Usually I imagine kids playing in the playground, but this week as I reflected on this passage, they were not playing but arguing about what they wanted to play. I see two sets of kids dividing over what they want to play some want to dance and are upset that the others are joining them and the others I guess want to play funeral and are upset that the other kids are not being serious. This caused me to think.
In life we often think in linear patterns. Meaning that there is a line stretching from one accepted idea to another accepted idea, and we fall somewhere on that line. Nearly every aspect of life that we believe we have choice in has some linear formulation. Our politics has a linear construct, education is linear, success and wealth are often measured in a linear fashion. Sometimes we call the graduated, but it is still linear. And by in large our ethics and morality are contemplated in a binary linear fashion. There are two extremes in these thought processes, and everyone falls somewhere between them on that line. In Jesus’s example the linear construct is between dancing and mourning, or celebration and sorrow.
He says how can we describe what is going on in the generation of his day, and he says it is like children arguing on the playground. Some think we need to be celebrating and others think that the world around them should be in sorrowful. John, he said came to them, he skewed to the mourning side of the spectrum. He did not eat with the socialites; he refused to drink and was even commanded to refrain from fermented drinks by God himself. Yet this man that was sent by God, announced and conceived in a manner that should have been the celebration of Israel since it was similar to the family of Abraham, and they said he has a demon. Why? He did not fit completely on their line.
Jesus comes. Even John begins to wonder if he was right in his statement that Jesus was the lamb of God, and they look at Jesus and again he cannot be placed on the line. Jesus is different than John, Jesus came eating and drinking and they called him a drunkard and a glutton. They called him a friend of sinners. The world is caught in this linear frame of reference. You must be placed on the line and if you are on the wrong part of the line you are not acceptable. And when they finally put that linear label on you, you then become the enemy of everything they regard as honorable. All human history distilled in one statement. We are children arguing about a game of dancing or sorrow. The great achievements of a society, totally disregarded, all because of a linear focus.
Jesus concludes, “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
I like the personification of wisdom; her name is Sofia. I have this probably unholy attraction to the personifications of Liberty, Justice and Wisdom. All these personalities are represented as feminine which I find interesting, because they are also representations of the personality of the triune God. Father Justice, Liberty being the son, and wisdom as the Holy Spirit. Yet these concepts are often depicted in female form. Last night there were televised fireworks displays around, Lady Liberty. The courthouses across our nation have statue of Lady Justice, holding the scales and sporting a blindfold. But like the holy spirit Sophia, lady wisdom is difficult to grasp. I often wonder why these are always depicted from the feminine aspect of humanity, and I think it has to do with the great care required. You cannot force liberty; it must be nurtured. You can not gain wisdom by conquest it must be developed and reared over time. And justice must be balanced with mercy.
Wisdom is justified by her deeds. There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. I have a degree in crop science. I have knowledge about plants, how they function, what to do to make the best environment for them to grow. I have the knowledge, but my grandfather, he graduated from high school. He does not have a college degree, because at that time they needed him to work on the farm to feed the soldiers fighting in Europe. My grandfather has wisdom. He has years of experience. His experience and wisdom provided for his family and continued to bless through the next generations. Wisdom is taking those things we know and putting them into action. When Jesus says wisdom is justified by her deeds, he is speaking not of a linear representation of applied knowledge. Often, we think of applying knowledge in ways that will provide some benefit, but Jesus says justified by her deeds. This alludes to something greater. Wisdom is applying knowledge in a manner that will benefit all involved.
Consider some of the linear problems of today. Many environmentalist desire that we completely abandon the use of fossil fuels, and if we are honest this is not a bad idea. We know the pollution that oil can cause. But there is more to this one issue. Wisdom show us that our dependence on fossil fuels is much deeper than the vehicles we drive. Oil is used in the processing of nearly every consumer item we have today, from the packaging on our food to the carpet under our feet. Wisdom say look deeper and broader. Find different answers and ask different questions. We cannot survive today without oil, yet we need to find cleaner products. It is not linear but multifaceted, yet by my saying we should find cleaner products will often put me on the same side of a line as climate change advocates, where my saying we need oil at the moment labels me as a climate change denier.
Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds. We want easy answers and clearly defined lines. We like labels and boxes. We like to know that we are right and those that have a different opinion are wrong, but Jesus does not allow for this to happen. Wisdom is justified by her deeds. How you live your life. Our words should be reflected in what we do, and our actions should resemble the testimonies we speak. Jesus calls the generation of his day squabbling school children because they were focused too much on being right instead of doing right or performing the proper action without having the proper motive.
Wisdom is justified by her deeds. Sophia is a woman of action within a community. Nurturing and encouraging growth and mutual profit and health. She lives and works all around her community, caring for those in need, and encouraging those around her to embrace a lifestyle that is not just celebration or mourning but one of hope. Being both and more. Have you tried doing this? The answer to that question is yes of course you have because we are a caring community. We do all that we can, but often we are like John. We get trapped in some linear lifestyle where our good intentions and desires get drown out by the cries of the masses. We get tossed back and forth labeled, and often ridiculed. We try to talk our way out, only to find ourselves deeper.
Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, father, for such was your gracious will.” The things that my parent’s generation struggled with are not the things that my generation struggle with. The things I struggle with are not the same that my sons’ will struggle with. There is hope, and yes, we might not be where we should be, but we are not where we were. And I pray that our children will have more of the gospel revealed to them than was even revealed to me. With each generation there is progress and growth. With each generation there is revival even within the church if we are open to the Spirit. But are we open?
Do we hold on to the past so tightly that we cut off the circulation? Are we so caught up in our success that we cannot see the afflictions others might be facing? These are the schoolyard arguments. And to be honest they are tiring. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” We are caught in so many battles in our lives. Battle that history will probably look back on as being as ridiculous as kids arguing about what game to play. Jesus is calling us to something different, he is calling us out of that linear world of right and left wing. He is calling us to a different lifestyle. He calls us to his yoke or teaching. Which he showed us throughout his life. He calls us take up his yoke, to walk with him. Where he shares the burden and keeps us walking straight. What is this yoke? Worship, prayer, and service. Nothing else just do that. Encourage one another as we join in worship. Withdraw often to isolated places to pray. And allowing that time of pray to direct you into how to speak and act in the larger community. And as we worship, pray, and serve be willing to encourage others along the way.
I said when I began that it was as if Jesus was distilling all of history into one phrase in today’s passage. And I believe that to be true. Everything we attempt to accomplish in our life is just what he says, playground squabbles, unless we allow God to lead us in the building of the community. Are we focused in the right place and walking the proper path? And before we can attempt to answer for a collective, we, we must first focus on the singular you. Are you heavy laden?