Matthew 11:16-19 (NKJV)
16 “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, 17 and saying: ‘We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.’ 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, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”
Children love to play. This, we have seen, is good and reflects the playfulness of God Himself. God’s delight is in all His works, He rejoices at the regularity of the world and declares, “Do it again,” to the sun, the clouds, the rain, the grass, the leaves, and the caterpillar.
Playfulness is not a sin. However, because we are sinful creatures, sin often manifests itself in our play. And it is one of these types of situations that Jesus’ references in our text today. The Pharisees have been criticizing him for associating with tax collectors and sinners; yet sometime previously they had criticized John for his austerity and super holiness. Jesus compares their criticisms to the sinful play of a group of children.
We all know that when children gather and endeavor to organize a game, there are some domineering spirits who strive to make events go just the right way, inevitably with themselves in charge. “OK, we’re going to play house. You’re going to be the servant, you’re the daughter, you’re the son, and I’m going to be the master of the house. Ok, servant go collect some fire wood for the fire.” To which the servant says, “But I don’t want to be the servant.” And now the real ruckus begins. You have to be the servant. No I don’t. Yes, you do. No I don’t.
The real question that the protesting servant is asking is this, “Who made you the authority? We didn’t vote. Mom and dad didn’t put you in charge. Why are you telling me what to do? I don’t have to listen to you.” And the question is a fitting question to ask. Who made you the authority? Just because you think you should be able to tell everyone else what to do doesn’t mean that you should. Your desires don’t equal actual authority. And this is what Jesus is saying to the leaders of Israel in his day. You sure do have a domineering spirit; you sure are mandating that I play according to your rules; but who put you in charge? After all, rather than enforce the commandments of God, you are simply imposing the traditions of men.
So, Jesus is asking, why should I listen to you? Is it illegitimate for me to minister to tax collectors and sinners? Does God forbid this? Does He forbid reaching out to rescue and to restore those in need of restoration? Those enslaved to their own sin?
Jesus’ observation on the sinful play of children highlights how often we judge others on the basis of our own fickle ideas rather than on the basis of God’s Word. We want people to do what we expect rather than what God expects. And because our expectations shift depending on our shifting mood, our expectations for others shift as well.
“We played the flute and you did not dance; we played mournful music and you did not lament.” Why aren’t you doing what we expect? Why aren’t you following along with our desires? Quite simply, Jesus replies, because your desires are not God’s desires.
And so we are reminded today to judge others with righteous judgment and to distinguish between our desires and God’s desires. What is it that we are demanding of others? And are we demanding these things because they reflect the eternal standards of God’s law or the fickle desires of our own heart? Beware how you judge others, Jesus commands, for with the same standard that you judge others you yourself will be judged.
Reminded of our propensity to judge others based on our own mood rather than God’s law, let us kneel and confess our sins to God.