An Odd Parable About Overlooking God

"To what shall I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market place and calling to one another 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep!" Luke 7:31-32

This is a parable that you are likely to have overlooked all of your Bible-reading life. You may recall it vaguely, but have you have really stopped to think about why Jesus told it? By the way, I think Jesus told it with a slight smile on His face.

Here’s the context. Though popular with the people because of His teaching and miracles, the Pharisees and lawyers murmured their complaints in the background. Jesus did not fit into their plans, and they would tell anyone who would listen.

Jesus knew what was going on, and He knew also that their criticisms would spread and become shouts to crucify Him. So He told an unusual parable to describe complainers. He looked around and saw children playing in the village square. And what kind of games did they play?

A wedding was the biggest social celebration in a village. It was a community event in which the entire village would participate. The wedding took place outdoors. The procession went through the streets. The newly-married bride was lifted above the crowd and paraded around. They played music and danced. Can’t you imagine children in that day would want to play wedding? “Let’s play wedding!”

But there were complainers in the crowd of kids. “No, we don’t want to play wedding.” So the other children would say “we played the pipes but you don’t want to dance.”

All right. If not wedding how about funeral? A funeral was another big social occasion. Children had seen funerals, and I imagine they might reenact one. Or perhaps it was like in my family. I have performed good Christian funerals for three dogs, two parakeets, a cat and some fish. Jesus had seen some children imitating the adults in all the pomp and circumstance.

But the complainers again objected, “No, we don’t want to play that either.” And so the others would say “we wailed and you did not weep.”

Then Jesus brings home the meaning (Luke 7:33-35). God had acted in history during this time in a remarkable way. John the Baptist entered the world with a message of a rough-hewn prophet. In camel's hair and leather girdle, full of locusts and wild honey he said, “Repent or the judgment of God will fall upon you!” He was not always accepted, but he was never misunderstood. Many listened, most rejected him.

Then came Jesus. The Messiah Himself arrived, and He was different from His cousin. John the Baptist went out into the wilderness. Never took a course in how to win friends and influence people. Jesus was completely opposite. He intentionally traveled through villages and towns. He liked being around people, went to their weddings, their funerals, their feasts. He would sit up late talking and loved the crowds.

What did people say about Him? A few loved Him, but many more rejected Him. What was Jesus’ verdict? “John the Baptist comes with judgment and you say he has a demon. I come with grace and you say I eat and drink too much.” Some people in that day could not be satisfied.

And people today have the same habit. Nothing is satisfying. We live in a culture of complaint where the reigning goal is to try to find something to satisfy us for a short period of time.

Ours is the most marketed-to generation in the history of the world. Researchers know what a 54 year-old man like me wants. When I click on CNN they know my surfing tendencies. I go to and it says “welcome Terry” and they have recommendations for me to purchase. I go to Wal-Mart and the entire store is designed to make me purchase as much as possible at low, low prices.

What our society has produced is self-focus on steroids. We have wonders available to satisfy our latest need, and without realizing our need has been created by advertisers and marketers. Whatever you want, you can have at a dozen stores in Baton Rouge, or delivered via on-line within a few days. We expect the self to be happy, and when the self is not happy we complain, become easily offended, fix the blame on someone else, and completely overlook God.

Surely one of the worst sins in life is failing to see what God is doing around and in you. He really is always at work, and He really does love and care for you. Thomas Merton wrote, "To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us–and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude, therefore, takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference."

Discernment leads to gratitude, and gratitude silences complaint. God has acted in history, and He has acted in your life today. Be still for a moment, draw back from the keening cries of want and dissatisfaction, and remember that God has anticipated and taken care of your every need in Christ Jesus.


Dr. Terry Ellis

October 29, 2012

  1. Hello Dr. Ellis,
    I did not receive GraceWaves for two weeks and I really missed it. Thank you once more for your insightful writing.I hope you and yours are well!
    I still miss you at SHBC and look forward to hearing from you every week. I hope you and yours are well!

    • Norma, we had some "technical difficulties" in the sending. All worked out! Let me know if you haven't received this week's.