We’ve been working our way through the Gospel of Matthew at our church this year. Consequently, as part of my devotional reading, I just keeping reading Matthew’s Gospel over and over and over. As tends to be the case with biblical familiarizing, several texts have caught my attention that previously I’d just sort of glanced over. One is this fascinating, seldom referenced section at the beginning of Matthew 11. Here, we’re told that while John the Baptist is imprisoned, he sent his disciples to Jesus. Jesus affirmed to them that he was indeed the promised Messiah and sent them on their way. Then he turned to the crowd gathered around him and talked about how John the Baptist was the greatest of men, and more than that, he was the long promised “Elijah” who was to come and prepare the way for the Savior (Matt. 11:14; Mal. 4:5). And then comes perhaps the most interesting part. Jesus makes an assessment of “this” generation. And he says:
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Matt. 11:16-19)
For years I had no clue, nor, truthfully, did I even really think to care what this all meant. Now I think I get it – and it’s an incredible explanation of the innate hostility and unbelief of mankind.
The comparison Jesus makes for “this generation” is that we are like children. Children didn’t have a whole lot of entertainment venues in those days. Without video games or the Disney channel or whatever this disgusting thing is, children were left to “play grown-up.” That typically meant that kids pretended, playing make-believe according to the two most extravagant events they saw their society participate in – weddings and funerals.
And even today, you may have noticed that, to many kids, weddings and funerals are virtually the same event. A little child is emotionally incapable of processing the magnitude of either event. So far as they can tell, you dress up, you get the family together, and you eat some food. The only real difference between wedding and funeral, to a child, is the mood and the music.
So, Jesus’ picture here is this: You have a number of little kids sitting around playing. And at first, the kids play pipes, but the other children don’t dance joyfully as they’re supposed to, like they’re at a wedding. The other children apparently don’t want to play wedding. That’s not their preference at the moment. But then, the kids who were playing the pipe now start singing a funeral dirge. The other children, if they’re now playing funeral, are supposed to respond by wailing and mourning. But those other children now won’t mourn. They apparently don’t want to play funeral either. That too is not their preference at the moment. And the first kids are saying, “Wait a minute! What do you want from us?! We really only have the two games – wedding and funeral. We tried one. We tried the other. And both times you rejected it.”
Why would kids behave like this? Why won’t the other children in the marketplace dance and play along?
It has nothing to do with the tune that’s being played. The problem, in their minds, is that it’s not their tune, i.e. they are not in control. It’s like the temper tantrum of a little child who cries that he wants to be picked up and then cries because he wants to be put down. The problem is not whether he’s held or not, the problem is that he doesn’t have the control that he wants. The parent is left to toss his/her hands up in frustration. The child is impossible to please.
So what’s the point that Jesus is making? He’s suggesting that in some respects, he and John the Baptist were quite opposite. John was rather ascetic, fasting and denying himself most worldly comforts. For his behavior, some accused him of being possessed by a “demon.” Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t deny himself food or drink, and in fact ate with “the sinners.” For his behavior, some accused him of being “a glutton and a drunkard.” At this point it’s like, “Okay…what do you guys want?!?!” These people were impossible. They couldn’t be pleased.
Jesus is making a point about why people reject the truth of God. The main reason is because it’s not OUR preference. We don’t naturally want Jesus to be our Lord. We don’t naturally want Jesus to be our Savior. According to the Bible, by nature, we resist Jesus as both Lord and Savior (Rom. 8:7). We want what we want. We want control. When Jesus seems to be presenting ideas, commands, and truths that don’t sit quite right with us, even offend us, some people bolt and claim they have their reasons. The real reason according to Jesus – “not MY tune.”
This is certainly true of the non-believing world when it comes to the rejection of Jesus. Virtually everyone who denies the divinity of Jesus believes he/she does so for intellectual reasons. But, as I’ve stated before, I’m convinced that most of these same people reject Jesus primarily for personal reasons, rationalizing their rejection as “intellectual basis.”
But this “not MY tune” principle also applies to the spiritual immaturity of the believer too. It’s very, very difficult for many people to separate “my desire/preference” from “God’s will.”
For instance, often people within churches reject music because, quite literally, it’s “not MY tune.” The rejection typically is justified as “that style of music is too fluffy” or “that style of music is too stuffy” (i.e. the contemporary vs. traditional debate), but, more often than not, the bottom line reason is I DON’T LIKE IT, it’s “not MY tune.”
Some denominational differences occasionally boil down to semantics. The terminology used by one group is outright rejected by another group as inferior or wrong, while that other group simply has different phrasing for the same concept. I’ve run into this several times with pastors – they refuse to see the concept being expressed because they aren’t hearing the specific words that they themselves would personally choose – “They should have said it the way I say it! It’s ‘not MY tune!'”
Sometimes people say they’re sorry for inconveniencing us, but we don’t like the apology. Perhaps the desired attitude isn’t displayed. Perhaps the exactly desired words were not used. Doesn’t matter. The real problem is that it’s “not MY tune.”
Have you ever had someone correct you for loading the dishwasher incorrectly, as though there is a morally right or wrong way to load dishes? Well, obviously dish-loading isn’t a moral issue. But if you’ve done any of it, I’m guessing someone has corrected you as though it were. Why? Because the way you did it – not their tune.
So I’ll say it again. It’s VERY, VERY difficult for many people to separate “my desire/preference” from “God’s will.”
Elevating your own thoughts, preferences, or will to the level of God’s is just one more way to describe sin. And the only appropriate way to deal with sin is to repent of it.
I know there are a number of non-believers who regularly read posts here. If you fall into that category, I’d encourage you once again to think through your rejection of Jesus’ divinity. Is it possible, even likely, that your rejection has less to do with evidence and more to do with the fact that following Jesus would be personally inconvenient, that you’d have to give up perceived control of your life? THAT is the accusation that Jesus is laying on you here.
And for us believers, this is an opportunity for me to repent of the times when I’ve elevated my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions to “God level.” I’ve accused and criticized others of doing wrong simply because it’s not the way I’d personally choose, and in the process, the irony is that, while they’ve done no wrong, I have.
Jesus is saying here that the nature of unbelief/spiritual immaturity is that we get angry when things aren’t exactly the way we want them, when we aren’t in control. But part of the liberating essence of Christianity is acknowledging that we aren’t in control, and that we don’t want to be in control, but rather want a gracious Father in heaven who is calling the shots, and we surrender to that.
Even Jesus himself, from his human vantage point, in the Garden of Gethsemane, acknowledged that salvation wasn’t coming the way he’d personally prefer. But he submitted to his Father’s will. And he said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) And this willingness, his acceptance of the idea of not getting his way, brought about our salvation. What kind of people would we be if our preferences were merely our preferences, but that God’s desire was our will?
Faith always says, “Father, YOUR tune is best.”