“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.’”
After his disciples depart from him, Jesus turns to the crowds and begins to address them and tell them about the ministry of John the Baptist (v. 7ff). He chastises them for their dismissal of John’s ministry and their false expectations for who John was as a prophet. Jesus praises the ministry of John and acknowledges his preeminent place as the greatest prophet, yet this is not the way the people viewed the ministry of John.
Transitioning into a caricature of the crowds to whom he was speaking, Jesus says, “to what shall I compare this generation?” (v. 16). This “generation” was Jesus and John’s contemporaries who heard them preach and who should pay attention to them. But Jesus describes them as “little children” who are in the “marketplace.” The similitude with which Jesus draws upon is how children play with each other in public and respond to each other by playacting. They engage with each other and are influenced by what each person is doing.
But the people Jesus is speaking to are not like that. Instead, they are like children when their friends call to them and play the flute, do not dance; or when their friend sings a sad song, they do not mourn (v. 17). What this analogy is pointing out is that the present generation surrounding Jesus does not care to respond to what John and he are doing. They are not interested in the kingdom or the message of repentance. Their reluctance to embrace the ministry of John demonstrated their unreasonableness and refusal to hear his words.
Our generation today is not much different than in the time of Jesus. Even though we have a message of grace and truth that exceeds that of John, people will still be disinterested in those words. We might play a flute or sing a dirge, but by and large, our generation still resists the wisdom contained in those words. Not our wisdom, but the wisdom coming from the one who the message is about—Jesus.
Jesus concludes this section by saying “Wisdom is justified by her deeds” (v. 19). The wisdom that Jesus taught and which we proclaim today is something not aimed at competing with what is so called “wisdom” but is proved right by the results it produces when it is lived. The wisdom of the kingdom is not to be found in the eloquence of the message but in the actions that accompany the one who follows it, for wisdom is shown to be right according to the deeds that she accomplishes. If our deeds demonstrate the wisdom of our Master, then even if no one dances or mourns, we can be confident that we are not failing to fulfill the mission given to us. We must remember that this generation too will resist the message that brings hope and delivers people from the darkness of this age. So don’t be dismayed at the world’s refusal or their ridicule of you but be encouraged knowing that you are bearing the light in a dark place, and there are few who are willing to carry that torch.