Keepin’ it Real
Continuing in Matthew 11, where Jesus is speaking to the people who remain after the disciples of John were sent back to John to give an accurate account of all Jesus was doing.
“And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear. “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute 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, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.'”
I have a question, it’s a simple question, yet I can only imagine what the answers would be if I asked a hundred different people: who is, “this generation” in the context of Matthew chapter 11, verse 16? Fast forward to Matthew 24:34, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Who is this generation? Definition time: from the Merriam Webster website; This; the person, thing, or idea that is present or near in place, time, or thought, or that has just been mentioned. Generation; a group of individuals born and living contemporaneously. Therefore, based on the context, we can define this generation as; this generation. Any teenagers I’ve taught who maybe reading this will cry foul, because I always insisted that one not define a word using the word itself. But I had to do it, honestly, how hard is it to define; this generation. It’s not that generation or a future generation, or even; a little steeple. Sorry for the silly soliloquy, but what else can this generation mean? If this generation means anything but the generation of people to whom Jesus was speaking, it might as well be translated into; a little steeple, because it doesn’t fit the context. Therefore, if we play loose with the word of God we can manipulate it to say anything we want.
You got some explaining to do
While in the midst of writing this missive (not that missive) I listened to a seemingly unrelated Bible study on the radio. They actually use a similar acronym to the CAGED method. They consider context, the person speaking, the audience and the explanation–I salute them for it. However, they don’t take into account the genre, and the explanation they use is clearly what they have been taught. Dividing rightly the word of truth, confirms or cancels the reader’s thoughts and minds. After considering the context, genre, author’s aspiration to his audience and searching the Scriptures sufficiently for examples, one must then account for all arguments. Again, for example, can this generation possibly mean that generation? That’s Dividing rightly the word of truth. An explanation is too often someone regurgitating that which they have been taught, even while considering the context, they will interject opinion not conducive to the context, which is fine, if stated as opinion but completely inappropriate if claimed to be doctrine. Today’s text is the perfect example. This generation needs no explanation. I believe they would say the same thing. Nevertheless, when they speak on Matthew 24:34, based on their end-time beliefs, they would be forced to explain how, this generation actually doesn’t mean, this generation.
I am not against laymen teachers. In fact I am the largest proponent of them. There is nothing more important in the christian walk than to not only be a disciple but to disciple others. If I hadn’t been discipled, I would not be writing this. As the apostle Paul said, I am in debt to those who need the gospel. We are all called to be and make disciples. My only caution is to use the CAGED method our some other hermeneutical method to study the Scriptures together. Don’t search for application, get to know Jesus, and then the application will be made evident. The last time I spoke to a gathered group of young people, I encouraged them, in fact, begged them to not only find someone to disciple them, but find another to disciple. I told them the sad truth; no one will want to disciple you, they don’t consider themselves worthy. And I told them not to take no for an answer. I encouraged them to remember all that I taught them about Biblical hermeneutics and to ask questions concerning context. Nobody’s perfect or has all the answers but we’re called to know God and make disciples. Discipleship is not about telling someone what to do, it’s about learning together, it’s about commitment. It’s not always about results but it is always about being faithful. It’s about recognizing who Jesus is and what he has done. Which quite un-coincidentally, brings us back to today’s text.
“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” I know what you are thinking: Russell P, what does that have to do with your ramblings? That’s a good question and here’s the answer. Jesus said that, that generation (this generation in the context) was like (simile alert), children not dancing to the music of a flute. That is, the people of the generation of the earthly dwelling of Jesus, were similar to people not prancing as the piper plays; like a group of his contemporaries, not mourning during a funeral march. Can I use a modern simile? Like a bunch of tweeters not taking to Twitter on the biggest news-day in 20 years. Look at the context, Jesus is speaking to them, to their generation, after praising John the Baptist and highlighting his own works–remember Jesus said, the blind see, the deaf hear and the gospel is preached to the poor. Now, in the same scene and context, Jesus compares his generation to children not dancing as the flute is playing. Do we see the simile? Let me attempt to make a contemporary statement once again and answer the question. Jesus said to make disciples in Matthew. We don’t make disciples, generally speaking. We go to church, sing songs, maybe even take a few notes during the sermon, but we don’t make disciples. In the same way, Jesus the Messiah, the Lamb, the Lion, the son of God and Creator of all things is in their midst, and yet, they don’t dance. Do you see it? God incarnate is among them, yet they do not mourn. Do you understand? We dance to the flute and mourn at a funeral procession, but we have zero reaction to Jesus. In the same way that Jesus and John the Baptist’s contemporaries didn’t react appropriately to John’s front-running and to the miracles and teachings of Jesus, we don’t react appropriately to the call of Jesus.
We are called to be disciples making disciples in a chain of disciples that started with the twelve–but we’re hanging by a thread. As God dwelt among them and they did not react, we are called to be disciples but don’t react. The context of Matthew suggest that the generation of Jesus was apathetic to the Lord in their midst. This verse doesn’t apply directly to us, rather I use our apathy to demonstrate their apathy. We could argue over which generation is worse but that wouldn’t edify. What does edify is reading the Bible for all it says–we’re mining for gold.
The problem with mining for gold is that it usually convicts–or should. The problem is that this goes well beyond apathy. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When the flute plays, dance. When the dirge sounds, mourn. And when Jesus tells us to make disciples, we probably should make disciples.
Imagine a baby, seeing the world with fresh eyes and her father shows her a jack-in-the-box. It’s simply a cube with decorative elements and a handle at first, it’s pretty but it’s inanimate. But then the father begins to crank the handle and the music starts. It’s still rather mundane but then the special note is hit and the jack quickly explodes from the box and surprises the fresh, non-expecting eyes of the child. But her reaction is zero. She doesn’t jump, lurch, giggle or even blink. That’s not dancing when the flute plays. That’s not giving an appropriate reaction to the situation.
“‘We played the flute 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, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.'” John, as way of reminder, didn’t drink strong drink and his diet was restricted too. It’s in the context, but we take vitamin E to confirm. Jesus however, ate and drank more freely, and dined with tax collectors and sinners. Again, it’s in the context but we use the caged method and are remembering things previously read that confirm the context. Yes, Jesus drank wine, deal with it. I have had many people in my life, who are smart enough to know that the context confirms that Jesus drank wine. But then they make the claim that wine in those days had such a small volume of alcohol that one could not get drunk from it. They consider the context but not fully. Notice; “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard.'” If one could not get drunk from the wine, how could they call him a drunkard? And how could Paul say, “don’t get drunk from wine,” if one could not get drunk from wine? Jesus was perfect, he didn’t have underlying sin for wine to enhance, in my opinion. But that is not the point Jesus is making, I only wanted to point out our hypocrisy, which is the point.
John, who abstains, is said to have a demon. Jesus, who partakes, is said to be a drunkard. Both were doing what they were supposed to do and both were criticized for it. I have been given lottery tickets in my life but have never bought one myself. Frankly, I’m happier with the dollar. The odds of winning are so insignificant that I would rather just keep the money. But the money made by the lottery goes to schools, therefore I am miserly and don’t want kids to get a good education. A former educator of mine, who made her living from the school, constantly buys lottery tickets–one could say she’s giving back. No, we say she has a gambling problem, which she does but bear with me. Like Jesus eating and drinking and John abstaining but both being criticized, I don’t buy and could be criticized for not supporting schools while she buys and is considered to have a gambling problem. The point is the double standard–the hypocrisy of the argument.
Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds
That is an interesting statement and a neat little literary device. Remember that the Bible is literature and Jesus uses many literary devices to communicate with people. In this statement Jesus uses personification. He gives wisdom a human quality by calling it, her. Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. That is, the combination of knowledge, experience and discernment has been acquitted because she displayed it through her works. John did what he was supposed to do and Jesus did what he was supposed to do. The miracles and teachings are proof. There is no reason for a double standard or hypocrisy, the wise person would clearly see this. However, this generation does not, according to Jesus. They applied the double standard and couldn’t comprehend that which was right in front of their faces.