Bible treehuggercomContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 7:31-35

31“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

   “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

 33For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”


Today’s passage ends a three-part series on John the Baptist, his followers and others who doubted that Christ is the Messiah.

The first post, covering Luke 7:18-23, discussed John’s doubts, as related by his disciples to Jesus. John was in prison at that time and could not follow our Lord. Jesus responded by showing these men a quick succession of creative miracles. This was to demonstrate that He was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. John’s disciples were to go back to him and report what Jesus did. They duly left.

In the second, which dealt with Luke 7:24-30, Jesus addressed the rest of John’s disciples in the audience. He told them that John was the greatest human who ever lived. (This was because he, the last prophet, actually knew Jesus.) The point was that if they accepted John, they had no reason not to accept Him, because John prophesied that He was the Messiah.

Today’s verses reveal Jesus’s exasperation with them as well as with the Jewish hierarchy, the Sanhedrin, who have either confronted or criticised Him. (See Luke 5:17-26 (healing of the paralytic), Luke 5:33-39 (eating and drinking, instead of fasting), Luke 6:1-5 (picking corn on the Sabbath) and Luke 6:6-11 (healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath).)

Jesus asks what sort of people they — John’s followers and other doubters or unbelievers — are (verse 31). He uses a traditional Jewish expression, ‘To what then shall I compare the people of this generation?’ John MacArthur explains:

It’s another condemning designation because as you follow the use of that word in the book of Luke, for example, chapter 9 verse 41, Jesus answered and said, “O unbelieving and perverted generation.” And then over in chapter 11 and verse 29 Jesus says to them, “This generation is a wicked generation.” And down in verse 50 He charges this generation with the blood of the prophets since the foundation of the world. And again repeats it in verse 51 and over in the sixteenth chapter again what we find at the very same almost technical use of the concept of generation referring to the unrighteous. They are the sons of this generation, verse 8 of chapter 16, sometimes translated age, the sons of this generation chapter 17, verse 25, it’s the same thing, that Jesus is going to suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

In verse 32, we see Jesus’s reference to children’s games played in the public square. As children today play ‘happy families’ or ‘house’, MacArthur says the two most popular re-enactments of life in our Lord’s time were weddings and funerals. Hence, the references to playing a flute and overly picky youngsters refusing to join in a wedding celebration re-enactment; similarly, the dirge represents a funeral.

What does Jesus mean? He’s pointing the finger at the priestly hierarchy who refused to be baptised by John the Baptist and at John’s followers for not believing in Him. In other words, they are like fussy children who are never satisfied, no matter what is going on. The reclusive John wasn’t good enough for some and, his polar opposite, Jesus, who is in public most of the time, doesn’t meet their acceptance, either.

He elaborates on this (verse 33), by saying that John took the austere vows of a Nazirite monk — which only Samson and Samuel took — yet detractors said he had a ‘demon’. Then comes Jesus, who is among people every day, and unbelievers criticise Him for being a drinker and associating with social outcasts (verse 34).

So, Jesus is asking, ‘What will satisfy you people?’

He concludes by saying that many different types of people are wise and will be justified in the end (verse 35). Consider the aforementioned difference between Jesus and John the Baptist. Think of the lowly professions of the Twelve. They were men without exalted places in society or the synagogue. They were not well-educated. Nor were they great teachers (yet!). Today, Jesus might have chosen a dustman (sanitation engineer), taxi driver, a busboy and a postman among his Apostles. The point is that formal education and social status have little to do with spiritual wisdom.

Matthew Henry has this observation:

By this it appears that the ministers of Christ may be of very different tempers and dispositions, very different ways of preaching and living, and yet all good and useful; diversity of gifts, but each given to profit withal. Therefore none must make themselves a standard to all others, nor judge hardly of those that do not do just as they do …  

Wisdom’s children are herein unanimous, one and all, they have all a complacency in the methods of grace which divine wisdom takes, and think never the worse of them for their being ridiculed by some.

Next time: Luke 8:1-3