Monday, October 17, 2011

Wisdom is justified by her children

"But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:

'We played the flute for you,

And you did not dance;

We mourned to you,

And you did not lament.'

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 winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is justified by her children."

Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades, for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you."

- Matthew 11:16-24

On Friday, we read of two disciples of John the Baptist, coming to Jesus and asking, "Are You the coming One, or do we look for another?" John the Baptist is now in prison, and they take word to him. Jesus replied with a quotation from Isaiah, about the signs of the Messiah which are Jesus' signs. He added, "And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." And then, on Saturday, we read of Jesus speaking to the crowds about John. He asked if they went out in the wilderness to see a man in soft clothing, or a reed shaken by the wind. John is the greatest prophet, "he is Elijah who is to come." He preached, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force."

"But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not lament.' " This reference is to an ancient game played by Jewish children. They would divide into two groups: one 'calling' and the other responding. The first group pretended to play musical instruments or sing -- either for dancing or mourning, and the second group would have to respond properly. He's comparing the fickleness of the people to children playing this game. They claim to expect certain behaviors of Himself and John the Baptist, and 'call the tune.' They criticize either way.

"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 winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is justified by her children." Jesus compares Himself and John. John was ascetic, refrained from "eating or drinking" and he and his followers had a rule of strict discipline. We've already read how Jesus was criticized for eating and drinking, and dining with "tax collectors and sinners." But both apparently are in for criticism for each very different practice or style in their ministry and followers. My study bible points out that this is especially true for the religious leadership, but also He's clearly speaking to the crowds here, who may be turning from both as official opposition rises, and John is imprisoned. The conclusion here, that "wisdom is justified by her children" is the answer to all the demands placed upon both John and Jesus. Wisdom, the work of the Holy Spirit, is not a response to crowds nor popular demands. It works as it will, and the works or "children" of wisdom justify wisdom's methods. It is similar to the understanding of Jesus' teaching, "by their fruits you shall know them." As "a good tree bears good fruit," so wisdom is justified by her children. Wisdom does not act merely to please the crowds, and the "crowd" cannot dictate what is 'good.' Whatever way the Spirit or wisdom works, either through the different styles of John's ministry or Jesus', its works, its fruits or children, justify it.

Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades, for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." These are Galilean cities in which wisdom's works have been done -- in which Jesus has preached and healed, but people did not respond with acceptance. Tyre and Sidon are Gentile cities, in which there is a better response to Christ. Capernaum was the city of Jesus' ministry headquarters, home to Peter and other disciples. Jesus unfavorably compares Capernaum to Sodom, a city condemned in the Old Testament, because the works of wisdom were not revealed to Sodom as they were to Capernaum -- and if they were, Sodom would have been saved. So, judgment works by revelation: the acts of wisdom or Spirit create their own judgment via our response.

Let us think carefully about Jesus' words and what they teach us. Whatever preformed 'formula' or criticism we wish to apply to others, if we cannot see with the eyes and ears of the spiritually receptive, we may miss the great works of wisdom. Criticism can come so easily, to every form of work or act -- but we can only understand the good by observing properly, by hearing and seeing with the understanding that wisdom will give. John and Jesus present here two contrasting images: one extremely ascetical, the other comes eating and drinking and dining with tax collectors and sinners. Yet wisdom is justified by all her children; in the Greek, this word for "children" is one that means works. We are all quick to judge, and yet we may be mistaken in either case, the one or the other. Both are products of wisdom, the holy at work in our world, and the holy is ever-creative. Wisdom or Spirit will work in whatever way is necessary, and we must have the ears and eyes to understand, to hear and to see. We can't be like children who call out the tune for others to respond. In a sense, that's like the tail seeking to wag the dog. God does not work that way. In the reading in which Jesus was criticized for dining with tax collectors and sinners, He responded: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." None of us knows the cure for our own ailment, our illness. We don't call the tune. It is the physician who heals, who teaches, who is the Good Shepherd that guides us through the narrow gate. If we have ears to hear and eyes to see, we will know who leads us to healing, to new wisdom we don't yet have, to the good we don't yet grasp. Can we always have our eyes and ears open to that wisdom? Or do we always try to call the predictable tune, drowning out all the grace that is offered to us? Do we attend the light - in whatever form it comes - that will teach us what we truly need?