By Peter Amsterdam
July 17, 2018
The parable of the children in the marketplace is one of the lesser-known parables. Earlier in Luke chapter seven, we’re told that John the Baptist had sent some of his disciples to Jesus with instructions to ask:
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”1
In their presence Jesus healed the blind, lame, lepers, and deaf, and raised the dead. He then instructed them to return and tell John about the miracles they had seen.2
Once John’s disciples left, Jesus said to those with Him:
What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? ... A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. … When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John.3
The people who had been baptized by John were inspired by what Jesus had said. However, we’re told that the Pharisees and lawyers who were present didn’t believe; they rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by [John].4 It was in this context that Jesus told the story of the children in the marketplace.
To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They 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.” For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” The 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!”5
A number of times in the Gospel of Luke Jesus spoke negatively of the generation which was alive at that time:
O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?6
This generation is an evil generation.7
The blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation …Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.8
As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.9
Jesus described the Pharisees’ response to both John and Himself using a word picture of a group of children, some of whom had been participating in activities together and others who hadn’t entered in. Jesus was implying that the disciples of John the Baptist, as well as His disciples, were those who had participated in the activities. He was also pointing out the difference in His approach and John’s, which was likewise reflected in the actions of their respective disciples.
John lived a life of asceticism, as he understood the coming of God’s kingdom as requiring fasting and self-sacrifice. The book of Matthew gives an idea of his lifestyle:
John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.10
Luke expresses John’s austere lifestyle by saying that he ate no bread and drank no wine. That John should not drink wine was spoken of by an angel before he was conceived:
He will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.11
Jesus, on the other hand, presented the coming of God’s kingdom as a time of rejoicing and celebration, which He expressed through the analogy of the wedding feast.12 He ate, drank, and associated with sinners. While John and Jesus had very different lifestyles, they shared a common message.
John, who lived an ascetic lifestyle, was criticized as having a demon. Later in Luke, Jesus was accused of the same thing:
Some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.”13
In the Gospel of John, Jesus was repeatedly accused of having a demon.
The crowd answered, “You have a demon!”14
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”15
Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?”16
Clearly there were those who didn’t think too highly of Jesus or John.
When Jesus pointed out the accusations and complaints leveled against Him because He didn’t live an austere life like John, they called Him a glutton and a drunkard; to add insult to injury, they added that He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Earlier in this Gospel, it recounts how the Pharisees and scribes showed their displeasure at Jesus’ eating with tax collectors and sinners.
The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”17
Jesus ate and drank with those who needed spiritual healing and repentance. Clearly, the Pharisees’ priorities were skewed.
In His parable, Jesus took aim at those who rejected both Himself and John the Baptist. No matter what the children in the marketplace did, some of the other children wouldn’t enter in. If they played a happy song on the flute and were dancing, there were those who didn’t join in. If they played a dirge, a sad funeral song, some children didn’t weep. Jesus was showing that there were people who would reject the message no matter what the style of presentation. They rejected John because of his asceticism. Jesus wasn’t an ascetic, and He didn’t preach self-sacrifice in the same way John did, yet those same people rejected Him as well. If their criticisms were founded, then those who rejected John should have been inclined to follow Jesus; and likewise, if they rejected Jesus, they should have followed John. But the Pharisees and the other experts in Jewish Law did neither.
Jesus ended His explanation by saying wisdom is justified by all her children.18 “Wisdom’s children” were those who responded to John and Jesus, and who accepted their message, as opposed to the religious elite of the day who rejected both. Those who rejected the message, whether it came through John or Jesus, were like spoiled children who refused to play with others no matter what games were played. They wanted the other children to play according to their rules.
The question left with the reader is: What do you think about Jesus and John? Will you be one of wisdom’s children? Or will you be like those who rejected the message of both Jesus and John and wanted God to play by their rules?
Children in the Marketplace, Luke 7:31–35
31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?
32 They 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.’
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’
34 The 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!’
35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Luke 7:19.
2 Luke 7:21–22.
3 Luke 7:24–29.
4 Luke 7:29–30.
5 Luke 7:31–34.
6 Luke 9:41.
7 Luke 11:29.
8 Luke 11:50–51.
9 Luke 17:24–25.
10 Matthew 3:4.
11 Luke 1:15.
12 Luke 5:33–34.
13 Luke 11:15.
14 John 7:20.
15 John 8:48.
16 John 10:20.
17 Luke 5:30–32.
18 Luke 7:35.