Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Parables of Jesus: Children in the Markets

Matthew 11:16-19:

[16] But whereunto shall I esteem this generation to be like? It is like to children sitting in the market place. [17] Who crying to their companions say: We have piped to you, and you have not danced: we have lamented, and you have not mourned. [18] For John came neither eating nor drinking; and they say: He hath a devil. [19] The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners. And wisdom is justified by her children.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Hello dear readers! Before I get into this one, I just wanted to briefly share an astonishing insight that I had never had before, until after I had published my most recent post. I sat thinking about what I had just written, it suddenly the language between two of the passages I had referenced jumped out at me. The two passages are these:

Matthew 7:[24] Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, [25] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. 

Matthew 16: [18] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

There are three images Jesus uses in both: the rock, building a house on it, and standing against the storm. In the first, Jesus is telling us to build our lives, our households, our kingdoms on the foundation of His teachings, and we will stand firm in the face of tribulation. In the second, Jesus says that He's going to build His kingdom (the Church) upon Peter, and by doing so it will stand firm in the face of the trials that Hell will throw at it. The elevation of Peter here is astonishing, and until my last post, I had never drawn a close comparison between these two passages before. Of course, this is because Peter is graced by the Father with the truth of who Jesus is. In other words, it's because the Father is gracing Peter in this way, with sure truth, that the Church will stand firm. Therefore, what makes Peter the rock is the grace of the true Rock, God Himself. Nevertheless, that Jesus would make this declaration is startling to say the least, and an incredible gift to Simon bar Jonah. Amazing.

Anyway, just wanted to share that. Now, on to the next one!

Today's parable is given by Jesus in reference to the generation of people in Jesus' day. The parable itself is fairly straightforward. Jesus is comparing that generation to bored and dissatisfied children in a market--and He makes this a blanket statement because this is the treatment He is receiving by-and-large. Not that this applies to everyone back then, but it certainly applied to the majority of people.

So what about these children? They complain to their companions "we piped but you didn't dance, and we lamented but you didn't mourn." Without any context, we might be sympathetic to the children who are doing the complaining. I mean, after all, they've gone through all this trouble to enrich their companions with good music and moving lamentations, but they didn't appreciate it!

The truth is that this isn't about the companions at all, but about the children themselves. You can imagine children sitting in a market, having nothing to do. Their parents are either working, or shopping, so they're left to sit idly by while they wait. Bored, listless, restless, and irritated, they try to draw attention to themselves, but complain no matter how their companions react. The truth is, the children are just miserable and won't be satisfied no matter what their companions do. They are ready to complain about anything, and make accusations against their friends.

The problem Jesus is zeroing in on here is the problem of scandal. Earlier in this chapter, He says to the disciples of John the Baptist, "blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me." And then right after this, He begins rebuking the multitudes. For what? For being scandalized by Him. He says, "For John came neither eating nor drinking; and they say: He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners." The reason the multitudes weren't responding favorably to Jesus' miracles is because they didn't want to.

This is really what the sin of scandal is about. It's not about the person who causes the scandal. It's really about the disposition of the person taking scandal. Yes, that's right. It is a sin to be scandalized by others. Why? Because you intend to see only that which is evil in them, and you interpret their actions in the worst possible light.

After this teaching, Jesus then goes on to rebuke the cities of Corozain, Bethsaida, and Capharnaum because they had great miracles being wrought in their midst and they, rather than glorying in it, they instead chose to be scandalized by it, and to accuse Him of evildoing, rather than seeing the blessed goodness of it.

This chapter is the first of three on this theme. In this first one, chapter 11, Jesus is said to be going about teaching and preaching and performing miracles. Then He rebukes the crowds for their scandal-taking. In chapters 12 and 13, we get to see some episodes where Jesus is teaching and preaching and healing and the Pharisees, rather than exalting in His goodness, attempt to catch Him in false teaching and contradiction, and accuse Him of healing by the power of devils.

So this chapter really sets up the next two, and gives them their proper context. The fundamental sin of the Pharisees, and those who follow them in this regard, is the sin of taking scandal. We should heed these words carefully, and always offer the benefit of the doubt to our brothers and sisters in Christ who appear to be sinning. Perhaps they do so unwittingly. We don't know. Rather, we should recognize the good that they are doing, or the good that they are professing. We ought not to take scandal in others.

Let us listen to the words of Jesus, when, in finishing His prayer to the Father at the end of this chapter, He says, "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light."

Let us shed the cares of this world, our recalcitrance and cynicism, entrusting everything to His care, and instead let us live in the joy of the Gospel, delighting in the Lord and in one another.

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