Reflection for 11 December 2020

Matthew 11.16-19

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places 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.’


Can you remember how confusing the world was when you were young? Everywhere you looked there seemed to be contradictions. The most obvious early memories of this sort are often rooted in the way that adults seemed to be able to do things that were forbidden to children. The nature of this confusion changed as we got older but even in later life there seems to be a ‘Them and Us’ rule that is both unwritten and universal. Jesus refers to that level of inconsistency in today’s reading. When talking to the crowds, Jesus speaks of the contrariness of those who consider themselves to be members of the religious elite. John the Baptist abstained from worldly pleasures and was described as being possessed by a demon. On the other hand, Jesus reached out to share the hospitality of those considered outside the accepted norms of decent society and was described as a glutton and a drunkard.

Whilst we may have considered the world as being a confusing place, with its contradictions and unwritten rules, what have we done to make it a better place as we have got older? Jesus advocated change. Jesus wanted to see the old ways abandoned and God’s plan for humanity enacted everywhere. This was too much for the religious and political authorities of the first century. They used their assumed knowledge and expertise to maintain a social order in which they were securely situated at the top of the pile.

We can so often be guilty of that type of social manipulation. If we consider someone to ‘not understand’ the ‘proper’ way of behaving or doing something we are all capable of criticizing them and ostracizing them. Often without speaking a word we communicate our feelings with such good effect that others join us in isolating the ‘offender’. But, as we impose our self-created rules of ‘decent’ behaviour we rarely pause to question our own motives or the outcomes of our ways of carrying on. We are just as guilty of causing confusion and exclusion as those who made the world such a bewildering place when we were young.

Jesus described the generation in which he was living out his earthly incarnation as children sitting in the market places. That is, children playing games. What is more, he describes them as children playing games that cause pain and upset. Sadly, we can be just like those children. We can even find a justification for behaving in this way: It was done to us, so why shouldn’t it be done to them. That non-argument usually concludes with the phrase: It never did us any harm.

Well, here is some distressing news. It did do us a considerable amount of harm. It made us immune to the feelings and needs of others; it distanced us from the teachings of Jesus and, ultimately, it distanced us from God.

Let us use this time of Advent, this time of waiting and preparation, to cleanse our thoughts and practices of these un-Christian ways. Let us be consistent in our faith and let us model that faith in order that others might join us in striving to become effective heralds of God’s own Son.