Part of the years of my youth were spent on a farm up in the mountains of Washington State. Some of my cousins lived in Downey, California, which is basically a Los Angeles suburb. You couldn’t get much different. I can remember one of my cousins asking us what we did for fun. Are you kidding me? We swam in the river; we divided up into teams and played army in the woods; we built hay forts; we played baseball in the pasture, using cow pies as bases; we even had cow-pie fights (when they’re dry you can fling those things like a frisbee – well, almost). My cousin was not at all impressed. But for us, it was like we had our own secret fun that she could not understand. You might say we played the flute and she refused to dance. And there was also this thing called chores, which had to be done before we could play anything. She didn’t join in and help with those either. And that was also a secret she couldn’t grasp. You might say we sang a dirge and she refused to wail. We were children of the country.
In Luke 7:29-35 there is a comparison between those who get the breaking-in Kingdom of God and those who do not. Luke sets the scene in verse 29-30. The people, the common rabble, and the tax collectors heard Jesus’ words and submitted to obeying God’s justice. They had been prepared for this by listening to John and being baptized by him. They sang a dirge of need and submission. And because of that when Jesus came and announced that the humble have the gospel preached to them; that the least in the kingdom are greater than John, they rejoiced with the news. Lamenting followed by celebration. This is Kingdom of God stuff, boys and girls. But the Pharisees and the experts in the Torah renounced this order. They didn’t need to lament or sing a dirge. They were the religious leaders; the elite. And they would have none of the kind of feasting that Jesus did – eating with sinners and tax collectors. Therefore, they pronounced God’s plan as null and void in their lives.
Into this situation Jesus interjects a parable. Well, first he asked a question to set up the parable: “What can the men of this generation be compared to? What are they like?” They are like little children playing games in the market place. A common sight that probably brought a smile to the common folk. Also, the words here have the feel of a set chant. So, maybe children could be heard chanting these words: “We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance; we sang a funeral song, and you refused to wail.” Maybe they skipped through the market place chanting. And as the adults chuckled or frowned, did they feel as if they were participating in a secret game? I think that was Jesus’ point. Those who refuse to dance or wail, are dismissing the game as if it had no value – ah, but they are the ones missing out.
John came preaching repentance, forgiveness and judgment. He held to the strict dietary rules of the Nazarite vow (Luke 1:15; Deuteronomy 29:5), and ate locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6). He called the people (Pharisees and Sadducees according to Matthew) who came out to be baptized by him a brood of vipers. Anyone who acts like that must be demon possessed. It was almost as if he came singing a dirge and expected them to wail. Can you repent without remorse; without a humble crying out your need? But the Son of Man, possibly referring to the prophecy in Daniel 7:13, came partying and they accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard. It was almost as if he played to flute and expected them to dance. But that would mean dancing with sinners and tax collectors. They would not be caught dead dancing with the rabble. They refused to understand the game. They didn’t want to admit that they needed to repent. And so, they couldn’t join the dancing, which they rejected anyway. They were left out of the secret game of the Kingdom of God. And Jesus’ words may sound as if they refer to every human without verses 29-30 and verse 35. But, thankfully, there are children of Wisdom. It was common to personalize Wisdom in the Old Testament (see especially Proverbs 1:20-33; 8:1-9:6). The children of Wisdom would be those who didn’t reject the plan of God as did the Pharisees and the Lawyers. Keeping the message of Wisdom (the plan of God) justifies Wisdom. In their actions they vindicate the message; the plan.
If you sing a funeral dirge with John, you will be able to party with Jesus. That is how God’s kingdom works. And only those who are in the party get it. It is as if we are part of a secret society; like we are sharing a secret game. Others will refuse to dance with us. That’s okay. Keep inviting and keep dancing. You belong in the Kingdom. You are children of the plan. Wail and dance! Peace, Walter