a reflection on Matt 11:16-20 (We piped for you and you did not dance...)
Glory to Jesus Christ!
I spent way too long last night trying to figure out who the children in today's short parable are supposed to BE. Are they Jesus and John the Baptist? Or are they the Pharisees and scoffers who do not believe in them?
I always thought the first interpretation, and it made this one of my favorite Bible passages. God comes and teaches us to rejoice, and we refuse. God comes and teaches us to lament, we refuse again. Joy and lament, rightly ordered, ordered as God created and intended is life lived to the full. Joy and lament lived how we want it to be, on our terms and in our time, is warped and draining and ends up being contrary to life.
The Christian life becomes a life of dancing while the world around you refuses to hear the music. Christ is Risen! Why aren't you dancing!? This is the love and compassion, the gratitude and mercy of our live. It also becomes a life-long exercise in howling in pain at things that the world chooses not to notice. We have sinned! Why aren't you weeping!? Someone is sleeping in the cold tonight without a coat! Why aren't you tearing your clothes and howling in lament and rage? This is the repentant and prophetic nature of our life. We honor the holy fools because they dance and weep to God's tune and not to the world's. We conform ourselves to God in the hopes to one day be slightly more foolish in our holiness.
But there's a problem with my interpretation, as far as I can tell, Jesus doesn't compare himself to the children in the market, but the unbelieving generation surrounding him. This changes things. Now, the instructions to weep and dance aren't the wise designs of our Lord, but rather the stupid and blind requirements of an unbelieving world. "Dance and eat!" the world says, "For I have played you the dancing and eating music!" "NO!" Replies John the Baptist, "for the time for repentance and preparation has come." "Mourn and fast!" the world says, "For I have required it of you!" "NO!" says Christ, "For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Now the Christian life is one of resistance and persecution. The world is frustrated at your actions and not the other way around. You will fast, and they will call you inhuman and unjoyful. You will feast, and they will call you consumerist and wasteful.
Both interpretations are rich images, but it seemed like only one could be right. So, after looking through various translations and commentaries, I picked up our trusty ancient Christian commentary on scripture to see what the Church Fathers had to say. Turns out Jerome favors the first lesson while Cyril of Alexandria preferred the second! There goes my either/or strategy.
Effectively, of course, both ideas point to the same thing. God's ways are not our ways. God's joys are not our joys, God's laments are not our laments. But they CAN be. They MUST be. The Church has her ways to help us. She insists on Celebrating both Christmas well into January and Easter for well over a month. My passionate and glutinous mind is still trying to wrap itself around the logic of meat-fare. "It's the fast we do before we fast!" And THERE is the clincher.
Every day Christ holds his love before me and asks me to rejoice in it, and I refuse because I see some of the penance required. Every day I show Christ my passions and tell him to indulge them, and he refuses because He is the God if life and light. One day with God's grace, I will dance when he plays the pipe, and weep when he plays the dirge, and I will not insist that he change the music. One day. With his grace.
Glory to Jesus Christ.