Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go. O that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your prosperity would have been like a river, and your success like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.
"But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, 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, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
The need to fill the gaps in our personality is evoked by Jesus’ words today. He quotes a proverb showing how we need a joyful side, ready to dance, and a compassionate side, always ready to sympathize. Yet people of either sort can find themselves spurned and ridiculed by people of the opposite personality type. These critics will say, "We piped you a tune but you did not dance! We sang you a dirge but you did not wail!" He was leading up to the punchline: John [the Baptist] appeared neither eating nor drinking, and people say, "He is mad!" The Son of Man appeared eating and drinking, and they say, "This one is a glutton and a drunkard!" Many practical conclusions can be drawn from these words, but most of all he is pleading with us to let others be themselves.
It’s well not to judge harshly nor condemn too quickly. Others have every right to that which God provides so plentifully and so freely – namely, time. We all need time to grow and so develop our own individual talents. We long to be encouraged and affirmed, so that we can keep trying. Others must be patient and tolerant, overlooking mistakes, gently correcting, learning from us all the while. As a community or family, we must be anxious to profit from all the talents around us – from those prompt to sympathize with our sorrows, from those who are austere, as well as from those who are more easygoing, sociable and even bounding outside the accepted norms. Jesus ate with tax collectors and others outside the law.
If we are committed to loving, we will be quick to applaud and slow to judge. We will persevere through troubles and give everyone the necessary time and space to grow and to make his or her contribution. We will appreciate the help and contribution of others, all the more as we develop our own specialized talents. Only through others will we be truly balanced and integral in our values and attitude.
Today’s gospel shows just how much Jesus was a keen observer of life. He noticed children playing in the market place. One group tries to involve another group in their games. They enact a wedding game, playing flutes, but the other group of children are unmoved. Then switch to a funeral game, singing dirges, but again the other group is unmoved. Jesus sees in this unresponsive group of children an image of his own generation who were moved neither by the sombre message of John the Baptist nor the celebratory message of Jesus. They dismissed John as devil-possessed and Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard. Both John the Baptist and Jesus had something important to say, but many of that generation were deaf to both messages. The gospel calls on us to be open to both the message of John and of Jesus. It is interesting to think of Jesus as a piper whose words and actions play the music of God. Our calling is to become attuned to this music of God and to move to its rhythm.