“To what can I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends,
‘We played wedding songs,
and you didn’t dance,
so we played funeral songs,
and you didn’t mourn.’
For John didn’t spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’
Matthew 11:16-19 New Living Translation
The people of Jesus’ day seemed fickle in what they expected of a Messiah. John the Baptist had come as the fulfillment of words spoken by the prophets of old that Elijah would someday return to prepare the way for the Messiah. Jesus came as the fulfillment of their messianic hopes. Still, the majority of the people in their day didn’t recognize them as such and Jesus was about to call them out about this.
This section of Matthew begins with John experiencing his own doubts about Jesus as the Messiah. He was in prison (a place he remained until he was beheaded). He sent messengers to Jesus to verify that Jesus was, in fact, the one they were supposed to be waiting for. Jesus was understanding of the doubts John was facing and sent reassurances to John by pointing out the ways He was fulfilling the call of establishing God’s Kingdom among the poor and tormented. After the messengers leave, Jesus addresses the crowd around Him, affirming John’s role as the long-promised return of Elijah.
The respectable people of Jesus’ day had trouble with both John the Baptist and Jesus. They were two opposite extremes of the spectrum and people rejected them for apparently opposite reasons. John was too radical and ascetic, so they accused him of being demon-possessed. Jesus hung out with and enjoyed life with the wrong kind of people, so they called Him a drunkard. Jesus compared these people to children playing a game in the market place and complaining that their friends would not respond properly to whatever mood they expressed with their music. The majority of the crowd had specific expectations of how the Prophet and Messiah would act and Jesus and John didn’t fulfill these in their minds.
We can be the same way in the expectations we place on the work of God in our culture today. In times of distress, we may look for a Messiah that stands up to the people we have determined are bad and miraculously brings them down. We may find it difficult to believe that God would send someone to enter their world and bring the presence of Christ with them. In times of prosperity when we are in a mood to celebrate, God’s call to humility, simplicity, and generosity may seem too severe for us. God calls us to live in such a way that we can recognize His work and His presence even when it comes in ways that we wouldn’t expect it.
Jesus, forgive us for the times when we have placed expectations on you that make it hard for us to recognize the work of Your Spirit. Place Your Spirit in us to open our eyes to the things You are doing that may not meet our expectations.