12 June 2013

Matthew 11:16-19

“We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” (v. 17)


John the Baptist features very strongly in this passage. In the previous verses (Matthew 11:1-15) John has sent messengers from prison asking if Jesus is the one who is to come. Jesus answers by talking about his actions and then goes on to say that John is "Elijah who is to come" (v. 14). He then says "Let anyone with ears listen!" (v. 15). The verses (Matthew 11:20-24) after this parable then speak about the cities in which Jesus has ministered and how they did not repent despite the miracles that were performed there. So the context of this passage is all about seeing what God is doing, and hearing what God is saying in and through the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus.

The passage itself describes a flute being played and the refusal of people to dance and then describes wailing and the refusal of people to mourn. The flute symbolises a wedding, whilst the wailing symbolises a funeral. Jesus then gets more specific by contrasting the ministries of John the Baptist and himself by describing the austerity of John and his own willingness to eat, drink and presumably be happy (verses 18-19). However, the reaction of the people on each occasion is to criticise and judge. The point being made is that the people, who Jesus is addressing, are refusing to respond to the work of God in whatever form it comes, and in whatever way it is dressed up. You can sense the frustration in Jesus voice.

At the end of this parable there is the intriguing phrase "Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds". Proverbs 1:20 reads "Wisdom cries out in the street"; which of course immediately reminds us of John the Baptist. The reference to the deeds of wisdom reminds us of Jesus' reply to John the Baptist about his actions when asked if he is the one who is to come (Matthew 11:4).

To Ponder

  • Does this passage mean we should always see the positive in people and not judge? What do you think?
  • The refusal to be satisfied with John the Baptist or Jesus reminds us of the frequently negative media response to public individuals. Whose fault is this?

Bible notes author

The Revd Jonathan Mead

Jonathan is a Methodist minister, who works part time in the London NW Mission circuit and part time as a learning and development officer in the London District. He enjoys keeping fit, reading history and visiting Mediterranean destinations..