By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 7:18-35
18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples 19 and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?” 20 When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?’ ” 21 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, afflictions, and evil spirits and had given sight to many who were blind. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight; the lame walk; those with a skin disease are cleansed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised; the poor have good news brought to them. 23 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What, then, did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26 What, then, did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
28 “I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John, yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, having been baptized with John’s baptism. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law, not having been baptized by him, rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)
31 “To what, then, will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.’
33 “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; 34 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!’ 35 Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
Would I love Jesus if he were here walking in my neighborhood (a classic question, explored most poignantly in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov)? His earthly community sure struggled to! I can’t be so sure I would succeed.
Jesus gives his “present generation” a brass-tacks assessment. He likens them to children playing a game in which one group plays music and the other group refuses to dance. John the Baptist lived in voluntary poverty away from the towns and cities with their feasting and dancing, refusing to join in out of love for God and the divine mission before him. For this, some people felt he was acting “too good” for them.
Jesus acknowledges that he lives quite differently from John, not avoiding people or shunning their gatherings but willingly accepting invitation into their homes. He associates with both those prominent in society and those disgraced (“sinners”). Yet Jesus is scorned no less than John the Baptist, labeled with all sorts of slander. John is despised for setting himself apart; Jesus is held in contempt for immersing himself in their midst.
The people lack wisdom, unable to receive salvation from the ascetic prophet or the gracious Messiah. They are not wisdom’s children.
Who is? Those who do not reject the message of John and Jesus. Those who see past societal expectations to the heart of God. They learn how to love God more than they love the acceptance of their culture. Wisdom’s children are those who are not afraid to be seen with John in the wilderness of poverty, or with Jesus in the company of sinners.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, California, where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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The Diocese of Nagpur – The (united) Church of North India
St. Paul’s Bloor Street, Toronto, Ontario