“They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep [mourn].’”
(Luke 7; CR Matthew 11)
I’m admittedly re-contextualizing this verse. The context is that John the Baptist is in prison. He learns what Jesus had begun to do and sends his disciples to investigate and ask Jesus a question: “Are you really the one?” It’s no small question. John has been resolute in his faith in Jesus’ identity from the womb. But now, with his Messiah here in the flesh, he’s rotting in prison wondering if he’ll be released or beheaded. This is John’s lowest, most desperate moment. The strong man suddenly isn’t sure. Jesus’ reply is a paraphrase of a chapter of Isaiah meant to reassure John of his own faith (he does, some note, also leave out the verse that might indicate to John that he would be released from prison, something John would have noticed). He then commends John and tells everyone that, not only is John the “greatest man born of a woman” but that “the least in the kingdom” would surpass John.
The public response is that they “acknowledged God’s way of righteousness, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But since the Pharisees and experts in the law had not been baptized by him, they rejected the plan of God for themselves.”
Jesus’ reaction is “To what shall I compare this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to each other: We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance; we sang a lament, but you didn’t weep!” He then goes on to express his frustration, contrasting the public reaction to John – who did not eat or drink – with the reaction to Jesus – who did the reverse. John comes in a spirit of mourning, so to speak, and was accused of being demon-possessed. Jesus comes in a spirit of celebration only to be accused of gluttony, drunkenness, and associating with sinners (which made him one by proxy).
Then he says, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
And afterward comes Jesus’ call to throw your burdens on him (in Matthew), followed by the famous moment with the woman who breaks a jar of oil and anoints him with expensive oil and her own tears (in Luke). “He who’s forgiven much, loves much; he who’s forgiven little, loves little.”
I could probably spend all day in the text, there’s so much to glean out of it, and this is but a poor, cursory version out of some church brat notion I should at least give some semblance of the original intention; but where I really want to spend our time is on Jesus’ frustration: Whether he calls his people in a spirit of celebration or comes weeping, they reject him. The plea is to stop being so impossible to please, to be satisfied with him.
As entertainers and communicators, I think we can all relate to that one way or another. You pour countless amounts of time, energy, and emotion into something, and sometimes it just feels like no matter what, you can’t please the audience.
I remember an intermediate fiction writing class I took. For my first assignment, I wrote in a very surreal, symbolic light – almost magical realism, maybe. No one got it. It confused everybody, and the only thing they could agree on was the setting, which was identifiable only because everyone in the room knew the location and therefore could figure out the location with only a scarce description. So, for my second, I took the reverse approach and imparted only one symbol and used a trope setting and situation. This time it was cliche, but they did figure out the symbol. Frustrated, I still had one more story to write for this class. This time I took a story a friend told me and simply wrote the events as he told me with no embellishment. And, this time, they read more symbolism into that simple little story with no layers whatsoever than I thought possible.
I wrote a tale for you,
but you didn’t listen;
I journeyed life and death and all between,
but you didn’t join me.
He came to his own, but his own didn’t know him.
So what do we do? Dance with one audience, we lose another. Play the flute for another audience, lose the one. Maybe the truth is we can’t please everyone, so we please no one. Maybe we pick which we’re going to ostracize. Maybe there’s another answer we haven’t seen.
“Choose the audience you have to offend.”