Matthew 11:16-19

THE ACCENT OF SORROWFUL REBUKE

Matt. 11:16-19

“To what will I compare this generation? It is like children in the market-place, calling to their companions, and saying, `We piped to you and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `The man is mad.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Look you, a gluttonous man and a wine-drinker, the friend of tax-collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is shown to be right by her deeds.”

Jesus was saddened by the sheer perversity of human nature. To him men seemed to be like children playing in the village square. One group said to the other: “Come on and let’s play at weddings,” and the others said, “We don’t feel like being happy today.” Then the first group said, “All right; come on and let’s play at funerals,” and the others said, “We don’t feel like being sad today.” They were what the Scots call contrary. No matter what was suggested, they did not want to do it; and no matter what was offered, they found a fault in it.

John came, living in the desert, fasting and despising food, isolated from the society of men; and they said of him, “The man is mad to cut himself off from human society and human pleasures like that.” Jesus came, mixing with all kinds of people, sharing in their sorrows and their joys, companying with them in their times of joy; and they said of him, “He is a socialite; he is a party-goer; he is the friend of outsiders with whom no decent person would have anything to do.” They called John’s asceticism madness; and they called Jesus’ sociability laxness of morals. They could find a ground of criticism either way. The plain fact is that when people do not want to listen to the truth, they will easily enough find an excuse for not listening to it. They do not even try to be consistent in their criticisms; they will criticize the same person, and the same institution, from quite opposite grounds.
If people are determined to make no response they will remain stubbornly unresponsive no matter what invitation is made to them. Grown men and women can be very like spoiled children who refuse to play no matter what the game is.

Then comes Jesus’ final sentence in this section: “Wisdom is shown to be right by her deeds.” The ultimate verdict lies not with the cantankerous and perverse critics but with events. The Jews might criticize John for his lonely isolation, but John had moved men’s hearts to God as they had not been moved for centuries; the Jews might criticize Jesus for mixing too much in ordinary life and with ordinary people, but in him people were finding a new life and a new goodness and a new power to live as they ought and a new access to God.

It would be well if we were to stop judging people and churches by our own prejudices and perversities; and if we were to begin to give thanks for any person and any church who can bring people nearer to God, even if their methods are not the methods which suit us.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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