Jesus said to the crowds, ‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.”
‘For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’
Yesterday I mentioned the conversations I have when preparing couples for Holy Matrimony. I focused on my helping them to understand what is meant by the word ‘love’ in a Christian context. In those preparatory conversations I also, at some point, ask them: Which one of you sulks? This question leads into a conversation about how they understand the concept of forgiveness. Today’s reading leads me to ask the same question, albeit in a slightly different form: What makes you sulk?
Most of us will have an answer to that question, even if we are reluctant to admit that we can be so childish in the way we interact with others. For one thing, everyone knows what I mean by ‘sulk’. We have that knowledge because we have seen that negative trait in others … and we know that we have it ourselves. We like to get our own way in all things. When we don’t, we sulk. Sometimes that involves noisy tantrums and sometimes it involves long periods of silence. Wherever we, as individuals, might sit on that spectrum, we do still sulk. It is not just a thing of childhood, although it never ceases to be childish.
Today’s reading comes from a moment in Luke’s gospel when messengers from John the Baptist are seeking to understand where Jesus fits into God’s narrative for humanity. John’s followers had accepted his teaching of repentance and baptism. They had learnt to sacrifice worldly things in order that they might draw closer to God. Then they see the one whom people are proclaiming to be the Messiah, and his followers, living a different life, a life that is not so austere and self-sacrificial. Perhaps we should be surprised that they needed help in understanding exactly who this Jesus was!
We are in a privileged position. We know the whole of the gospel narrative. For the followers of John the Baptist there was still much to unfold and to be revealed. We know that the need to repent, to turn from our worldly ways, is essential if we are to enter into a meaningful relationship with Jesus, our Saviour and our Lord. We know that, as Jesus walked the earth, people should have rejoiced at his presence, because the time for fasting and self-denial would come after humanity had done its worst. We know that despite the cruelty and cowardice of the spiritual and worldly leaders of the day, Jesus would not be defeated, not even by the cruel death of crucifixion.
Too often we ‘sulk’ by trying to align the Christian message with our own way of thinking, and fail. We want to rearrange the pieces until the picture that emerges is the one that agrees with our flawed, human wisdom. In reality, we are called to rearrange the pieces that make up the persona we present to the world until we conform to God’s wisdom.
Let us pray that we might set aside childish ways and be led by the wisdom of God in all that we say, and think, and do.