Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

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

Matthew 11:16-19

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

17 “‘We played the flute 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, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”[a]


Last week’s entry examined Jesus’s comparison of John the Baptist to Elijah in greatness. He also spoke of the kingdom of heaven and how John’s followers sought repentance and holiness with a deep passion: ‘the violent take it by force‘ (Matthew 11:12). He also referred to the fact that, in John the Baptist’s ministry and His own, the kingdom was suffering violence from persecutors.

Today’s passage has a parallel account in Luke 7:31-35, which I wrote about in 2013.

Our Lord takes issue with those — ‘this generation’ — who have been indifferent to John’s and His message (verse 16). John exhorted the people to repent — and many did, although not all. Jesus came to bring them to salvation. Repentance, then salvation.

However, many were not listening. Jesus likened them to children who refuse to play with their friends in the marketplace (verses 16, 17).

He refers to the two most popular re-enactments — weddings (flute) and funerals (dirge). We play ‘house’ — ‘happy families’, as it is known in Britain. They chose weddings and funerals because both involved large numbers of people, drama, emotion, ceremony and ritual. What’s not to like?

Yet, there were always children who sat on the sidelines carping, refusing to play. Jesus likens those who criticise Him and John to complaining children who never like what their friends are re-enacting in the marketplace.

Jesus explains (verses 18, 19): John led the life of an ascetic, abstaining from most food and all intoxicating drink. People complained about that, saying he had a demon. Then our Lord began His ministry. He had no such restrictions and associated with tax collectors and sinners. People objected to that, too: for that, they called him a drunkard and a glutton.

Jesus concludes by saying that wisdom is justified by her deeds. What does that mean?

John MacArthur unpacks the verse for us (emphases mine):

In other words, you sit back and you criticize no matter what I do or John does, no matter what our message is, you criticize. But in the end the truth will justify itself by what it produces. You can criticize Christ, but where you’re going to run into trouble is when you run into the people whose lives He’s changed, right? You can criticize the church but where you’re going to have problems is when you have to explain why the church has had the impact it’s had on the world. You see, truth or wisdom ultimately is justified by what it produces, and that is an unanswerable argument.

The wisdom of John the Baptist which insisted on repentance and the wisdom of Jesus which insisted on salvation was shown to be justified by what it accomplished in the hearts and the lives of the people who believed. They rendered the right verdict, they who believed. And they become the testimony to the truth. Some people are just critical. And you meet them and I meet them. They’re not even looking for the truth. They just want to find everything wrong with Christ and Christianity and that’s a tragic response. Because in the end, the truth will be justified by what it produces.

These…see, these people had a smugness that made them sit in condemning judgment and they were wrong

Matthew Henry has a similar analysis:

The success of the means of grace justifies the wisdom of God in the choice of these means, against those who charge him with folly therein …  If the unbelief of some reproach Christ by giving him the lie, the faith of others shall honour him by setting to its seal that he is true, and that he also is wise, 1 Corinthians 1:25. Whether we do it or not, it will be done[,] not only God’s equity, but his wisdom, will be justified when he speaks, when he judges.

However, Jesus had not finished; He had harsher words, to be covered next week. A parallel account is in Luke 13:10-15, also excluded from the Lectionary. Lamentable. We need those words of wisdom today more than ever!

Next time: Matthew 11:20-24