They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

We Played the Flute and You Didn’t Dance

…To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
‘We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge
and you did not mourn.’
Matthew 11:11-19

“We Played the Flute for you and you did not dance, we sang a dirge and you did not mourn”
Just like I had done on several other statements by Jesus in Matthew 11, I read over these comments in Verses 11-19 and never really tried to understand what Jesus was saying. I just decided that it was something that was only known to that culture and time period. It was kind of interesting to find the source of this little saying and it almost certainly is an Aesop’s Fable!

Aesop was a real person who lived during the time of King Croesus, in Sardis, in what is now modern day Turkey. Aesop was a member of King Croesus’ court and was one of the wise men that Croesus sought advice from.  He wrote a whole collection of stories and they were all stories that had a hidden meaning or moral to the story.  Even though they were written several centuries before Christ, you can buy a copy of Aesop’s Fables today in the bookstore.

There is a lesser-known fable of a fisherman who went down to the seashore and began to play a melodious tune on his flute. He just knew that his wonderful tune would have the fish jumping out of the sea and on to the shore.  When the fish wouldn’t respond, he became angry and went and got his net. He threw the net into the water and caught a bunch of fish and then threw them on the shore, where they lay flopping and dying. He said to the fish, “I played a tune for you and you did not dance,  and now all  you can do is dance.  In other words, “I gave you plenty of opportunities to follow my voice, but you didn’t take advantage of my offer”.  This little story was passed down through the generations and would have been familiar to them just like we are with the “Three Little Pigs”, or other favorite nursery rhymes.

Now back to our Matthew passage. Jesus was quoting an Aesop’s Fable when he compared this generation to children in the marketplace calling out to others this little story with a hidden meaning. He was telling the crowd, “John the Baptist and I have been piping and singing and you have not been responding”.  “You have certainly had your chances”, would have been Jesus’ message to the crowd.  Also, since Jesus mentioned that he had played both a happy tune and a sad song and they didn’t respond to either, there could be an additional message here.  He could have been saying, you have rejected John the Baptist’s (sad or stern) message and you have rejected my offer of salvation. We have come at you from every angle, yet you are not responding (a stiff-necked generation).

Now re-read the passage and see if that doesn’t make sense.  Once again, it helps to know the culture to try to understand more clearly what Jesus was saying. Just as we have many idioms and witty sayings that have been passed down for generations, so it would have been with their culture.  Let’s be careful not to just pass over some of the things that Jesus says that don’t seem to make sense at first glance. A little digging can result in some exciting and interesting findings.

John the Baptizer

“What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?…”
Matthew 11:7-15,Luke 7:24-30

This story takes place in the gospels after John the Baptizer has been thrown in prison by Herod Antipas for preaching  about Jesus as the Messiah. John sends some messengers to Jesus to ask him some questions. John is hopelessly locked in prison and is probably doubting his decision to be so bold in following and proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. His questions point to the thing burning in his mind – am I ever going to get out of here? Jesus’ response was always curious to me and I always wondered what he meant when he said to the people, “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” However, when you hear one of Aesop’s Fables that would have been popular and well known during this period of history, the analogy that Jesus makes jumps off the page.

The fable of the Oak and the Reed tells the story of a huge majestic oak tree and a small thin reed that were growing next to each other.  They argued about who was the strongest and the oak tree always had the more convincing argument. “I am powerful, thick, and mighty, the wind can’t touch me. You bend to the ground every time a small breeze comes up. I can withstand anything.” Then, one day a huge wind came up and the oak tree is uprooted and dies.  While the reed was severely bent low to the ground in the same wind, he was able to pop back up and withstand the gale forces.

Jesus was saying to the crowd, “Did you think that John the Baptizer was a reed that wouldn’t break under all this pressure? He was human, he had his breaking point, also, just like you. But I tell you, no man born of woman….”  . Then he begins to brag on what a great man John is and how fearless and determined he is and that he is even more than a prophet.

Now go back and re-read the story and tell me it doesn’t make more sense. If we just knew more of the culture and the context.