Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Fickle Children and Obstinate Cities

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Matthew 11:16 -30. The Revised Common Lectionary has vv. 16-19, and 25-30 as the gospel reading for the “Proper 9” weekend of Year A. I find it difficult to slice and dice like that, so I’ve just put them all in here. Your comments are always welcomed. 


16 Τίνι δὲ ὁμοιώσω τὴν γενεὰν ταύτην; ὁμοία ἐστὶν παιδίοις καθημένοις ἐν 

ταῖς ἀγοραῖς  προσφωνοῦντα τοῖς ἑτέροις 

“Yet to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the market who are calling to the others

ὁμοιώσω: FAI 1s, ὁμοιόω, 1) to be made like  2) to liken, compare 

καθημένοις: PMPart dpn, κάθημαι, 1) to sit down, seat one's self  2) to sit, be seated, of a place occupied  2a) to have a fixed abode, to dwell 

προσφωνοῦντα: PAPart npn, προσφωνέω, 1) to call to, to address by calling  2) to call to one's self, summon 

1. What a great question: “To what shall I liken this generation?” I try to imagine the simile, parable, metaphor, story, or symbol that Jesus would create to describe our current generation. 

2. The verb “liken” (ὁμοιώσω) has the same root as the adjective “like” (ὁμοία). 

3. It is interesting that Jesus likens the generation to 

            a) Children: Which I guess could suggest immaturity, petulance, innocence, 

     or a mixture of all of the above. 

            b) in the Market: I wonder if the market was a place where barkers cried 

    out with their very best, most enticing arguments for why one would 

    buy their product and not the same product from a different vendor in

    the next stall.

4. I wonder what the significance is that these are children calling in the market, rather than just the voices one might hear in the market. Were children the barkers for the market stalls? Are children the ones with the leisure to play the flute or mourn, while adults were busy with tangible goods and services? Are children more apt to swing from one extreme to the other, in search of companionship? Are children the only ones who are capable of telling the truth this baldly, such as in the “Emperor Has No Clothes” story? Is the very activity of transforming oneself from one extreme to the other in order to please companions childish? I’m wondering how ‘children in the market’ are different from ‘voices in the market’ itself. 


17λέγουσιν, Ηὐλήσαμεν ὑμῖν καὶ οὐκ ὠρχήσασθε: ἐθρηνήσαμεν καὶ οὐκ 


saying, ‘We played a flute for you and you did not dance; we mourned and you did not grieve.’  

Ηὐλήσαμεν: AAI 1p, αὐλέω, 1) to play on the flute, to pipe

ὠρχήσασθε: AMI 2p, ὀρχέομαι, 1) to dance

ἐθρηνήσαμεν: AAI 1p, θρηνέω, 1) to mourn, to lament 1a) of singers of dirges, ἐκόψασθε: AMI 2p, κόπτω, 1) to cut, strike, smite 2) to cut from, cut off  3) to beat one's breast for grief 

1. Young’s Literal Translation interprets ἐκόψασθε in the last phrase as “ye did not smite the breast.” It is the verb that Matthew uses to describe how the crowd “cut down” branches and lined the streets with them when Jesus entered Jerusalem (21:8), and how all the tribes on earth would react when they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds (24:30). 

2. This is the end of the simile that Jesus is using to describe “this generation.” The rest is explanation. The point does not seem to be that the “children in the market” have no conviction and seem too easily to move from one manner to another, depending on what they think others want. It seems to be more along the lines of “there is no pleasing you.”  


18 ἦλθεν γὰρ Ἰωάννης μήτε ἐσθίων μήτε πίνων, καὶ λέγουσιν, Δαιμόνιον ἔχει: 

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say “He has a demon.”

ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 

ἐσθίων: PAPart nsm, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat

πίνων: PAPart nsm, πίνω, 1) to drink  

λέγουσιν: PAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 

ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold

1. Two things stick out to me here: 

a. “John came …” It would be okay for John the Baptist to say, “But I’m not 

    dead yet.” Perhaps, within the story he is dead, but the reader doesn’t 

    know about it until c.14. 

b. “They say,” not “you say. The original address, “this generation” could 

    have sounded like “you all” but now it seems more like “those people.” 

2. The connection between demonic activity and asceticism is intriguing. Maybe “he has a demon” was a 1st century version of calling someone a “weirdo.” 

3. The verb in the participle “drinking” (πίνω) is “pino.” I’m having one now. 


19 ἦλθεν  υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων, καὶ λέγουσιν, Ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωποςφάγος καὶ οἰνοπότης, τελωνῶν φίλος καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν. καὶ ἐδικαιώθη  

σοφία ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων αὐτῆς. 

The son of man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a gluttonous and wino man, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ And wisdom is justified by her works.” 

ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 

ἐσθίων: PAPart nsm, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat

πίνων: PAPart nsm, πίνω, 1) to drink  

λέγουσιν: PAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 

ἐδικαιώθη: API 3s, δικαιόω, 1) to render righteous or such he ought to be 

1. I think “a wining and dining man” might be a close equivalent to the criticism lodged against Jesus, although I think the KJV’s “a man gluttonous, and a winebibber” captures the overtones of excess better.  I plan to use the word “winebibber” in a sentence this week. 

2. The only uses of φάγος and οἰνοπότης are here and in the parallel text of Luke 7:34. φάγος (pronounced phagos) is the root of the English word esophagus and οἰνοπότης (pronounced almost like wino-potes) has the word for wine at its root. 

3. Aside from the point that Jesus is making, and the etymology that I find interesting, this is a moment of insight into how Jesus perceives his reputation. They saw him eating and drinking and critiqued him for being excessive in it. The idea that the “Son of Man” has come “eating and drinking” is strange, since the phrase “Son of Man” is often associated with the suffering one. 

5. If John the Baptist had reason to say, “I’m not dead yet” in the previous sentence, how much more would the speaking Jesus have reason to describe himself with the perfect tense, rather than the aorist or simple past tense, “the Son of Man came”? What I suspect is that we are getting some insights into the Matthean community, perhaps even the criticisms that various branches of John-following and Jesus-following groups endure. 

6. Finally, how does the phrase “And wisdom is justified by her works” change the meaning of this text? I can see how it sets up the next few verses, when Jesus turns from the criticisms that have been lodged against him and John the Baptist to his own criticisms against cities that have experienced his powerful deeds but did not repent. Jesus is still describing his present generation. 


20 Τότε ἤρξατο ὀνειδίζειν τὰς πόλεις ἐν αἷς ἐγένοντο αἱ πλεῖσται δυνάμεις 

αὐτοῦ, ὅτι οὐ μετενόησαν: 

Then he began to revile the cities in which his many powerful deeds had taken place, that they did not repent.

ὀνειδίζειν: PAInf, ὀνειδίζω, 1) to reproach, upbraid, revile  

ἤρξατο: AMI 3s, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule

ἐγένοντο: AMI 3p, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being

μετενόησαν: AAI 3p, μετανοέω, 1) to change one's mind, i.e. to repent  

1. The cities did not repent when Jesus’ powerful deeds happened among them. The question, then, is how is repentance the appropriate response to the deeds of power that Jesus had done? 

2. I’m going to try to let the simile and explanation of vv.16-19 play out in answering that question. Remembering that after John’s arrest, Jesus took up John’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (3:2; 4:17). When we consider that to “repent” (μετανοέω) is to change (μετα) one’s thinking (νοέω), Jesus and John both brought the message of the nearness of God’s reign, which would preclude this great turning of mind and purpose. John’s message was signified by baptism; Jesus’ message was demonstrated with deeds of power. The cities did not turn in response to either. 

2. The word ὀνειδίζω has this delightful description from Bullinger’s lexicon: “assail with opprobrious words.” Use THAT in a sentence! 


21 Οὐαί σοι, Χοραζίν: οὐαί σοι, Βηθσαϊδά: ὅτι εἰ ἐν Τύρῳ καὶ Σιδῶνι ἐγένοντο αἱ δυνάμεις αἱ γενόμεναι ἐν ὑμῖν, πάλαι ἂν ἐν σάκκῳ καὶ σποδῷ μετενόησαν. 

“Woe to you, Chorazin; Woe to you, Bethesaida; because if the deeds which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. 

ἐγένοντο: AMI 3p, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being

γενόμεναι: AMPart npf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being

μετενόησαν: AAI 3p, μετανοέω, 1) to change one's mind, i.e. to repent 

1. The word “Woe” (a transliteration of Οὐαί) brings to mind the “seven woes” of Matthew 23. (It is sometimes called the “eight woes” because v.14 is added in some later manuscripts with an extra woe.) In those cases, Jesus begins his criticisms with what could be positive about the other, then shows that they do not live up to what they have been given. That method of critique was described by Aristotle and others as a manner of polemical speech, different from a full-on frontal assault. The woes here do not follow that formula very strictly, but I think the positive is implied since Jesus had performed deeds of power in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Likewise, the implied perfidy of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom are assumed and not explained in this text. 


22πλὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, Τύρῳ καὶ Σιδῶνι ἀνεκτότερον ἔσται ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως  


But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than you. 

ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

1. In Ezekiel 26-28, the prophet raises laments over Tyre (mostly) and Sidon, neighbors who have treated Israel with contempt (28:24). They are Phoenician cities known in NT times as wealthy commerce cities, even under Roman rule. I suspect that Tyre and Sidon are hated among Galileans as notoriously evil places. 

2. What if this criticism were something like this? Jesus exposes the deeply-rooted, unacknowledged sinfulness of “Small Town, USA” and said things like “It will be more tolerable for Las Vegas than for you, Prairie Town, Illinois!” “If the works that have been done in you, Middleton, Wyoming, had been done in Atlantic City, they would have been in sackcloth and ashes by now!” What if this is a critique of acceptable, petite bourgeois middle-class sinfulness, which often hides itself and placates its conscience by comparing itself to notoriously evil places? 

3. It is interesting that the “day of judgment” here seems to be a time of judging cities, not individuals. 


23καὶ σύ, Καφαρναούμ, μὴ ἕως οὐρανοῦ ὑψωθήσῃ; ἕως ἅἰδου καταβήσῃ. 

ὅτι εἰ ἐν Σοδόμοις ἐγενήθησαν αἱ δυνάμεις αἱ γενόμεναι ἐν σοί, ἔμεινεν ἂν 

μέχρι τῆς σήμερον.

And you, Capernaum, shall not be exalted into heaven; you will go down into Hades. Because if the works that were done in you were done in Sodom, then it would have remained until today. 

ὑψωθήσῃ: FPI 2s, ὑψόω, 1) to lift up on high, to exalt  2) metaph.  2a) to raise to the very summit of opulence and prosperity

καταβήσῃ: FMI 2s, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend 1a) the place from which one has come down from – to be cast down.

ἐγενήθησαν: API 3p, γίνομαι,1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being

γενόμεναι: AMPart npf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being

ἔμεινεν: AAI 3s, μένω, 1) to remain, abide  1a) in reference to place  1a1) to sojourn, tarry 

1. For all of those folks who continue to imagine Sodom as the seat of sexual sinfulness – despite many biblical references to Sodom that suggest otherwise – there is this: If the deeds of power that Jesus performed in respectable cities had been performed in Sodom, the folks in Sodom would have changed their ways. Yet the respectable folks did not. 


24πλὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι γῇ Σοδόμων ἀνεκτότερον ἔσται ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κρίσεως  σοί. 

But, I say to you that in the land of Sodom it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment than for you. 

1. Surely this is provocative speech. Imagine it being said to a church that practices socially acceptable sins, like coveting, greed, and subtle forms of racism and gender discrimination? Imagine Jesus comparing those upstanding folks to the folks whom they have always held in contempt, and saying, “But if those persons had seen the nearness of God’s reign in the way that you have seen it, they would have turned themselves around long ago!”


25 Ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπενἘξομολογοῦμαί σοι, πάτερ, κύριε τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ τῆς γῆς, ὅτι ἔκρυψας ταῦτα ἀπὸ σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν καὶ ἀπεκάλυψας αὐτὰ νηπίοις: 

In that time Jesus having answered said, “I bless/thank/praise you, father, lord of the heaven and the earth, because you hid these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants. 

ἀποκριθεὶς : APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνω to answer

εἶπεν: AAI, 3s, λέγω to say

Ἐξομολογοῦμαί: PMI 1s, ἐξομολογέω to confess

ἔκρυψας : AAI 2s, κρύπτω to hide

ἀπεκάλυψας : AAI 2s, ἀποκαλύπτω to reveal

1. The verb ἐξ/ομολογέω has, at one point, the word that is transliterated into English as “homily.” At its root is the word λογέω, making it part of a family of verbs about speaking. ἐξομολογέω  itself seems rather versatile. It is used in Matthew 3:6 to describe people confessing their sins, but sometimes it is translated as “thank” or promise, depending on the context. The use of the prefix ἐξ seems to make the expression a public matter, as opposed to simply being thankful or owning up to one’s sins internally. Perhaps it is used here to imply that Jesus isn’t simply offering this prayer under his breath, but is making it public. 

2. So, here’s a question for translating and interpreting this verse and the following verses. If we can describe these words as a prayer – and that seems appropriate as Jesus is addressing God directly – where does the prayer end? How does one signify with the written word, much less the spoken word if this is read aloud, that Jesus has spoken to God and is now speaking to others? Matthew does not have the customary, “And then he said to them” kinds of narrative signs here, so this is how some translations signify Jesus’ words with quotation marks. The parallel resource I have breaks down verse by verse, so I don’t know how the quotation marks relate to other signs, like new paragraph beginnings that each of these translations might have. Each translation begins the quote in v.25.

ESV – quotation ends with v. 30. 

NIV and YLT– quotation restarts in v.27; restarts in v.28; ends with v.30

NRSV – quotation restarts in v.28; ends with v.30.

NASB – quotation restarts with each verse. 

The ESV seems to be using the quotation marks to signify that Jesus is speaking, without making any judgments about to whom Jesus is speaking, changes of discourse, etc.. 

NIV and YLT seem to be trying to show different kinds of addresses. Vv. 25-26 are to God; v.27 to others; v.28 begins a call. I think this is the most helpful breakdown, per the quotation marks.

The NRSV seems to be treating vv. 25-26 and v.27 as the same discourse. I find that confusing and that is what started this line of inquiry. 

The NASB seems to be doing what the ESV is doing in a different way. 

I don’t know what to conclude from all of this, but I find it helpful to be sensitive to the manner of discourse – like the NIV and YLT do – when presenting these words and so I am following their lead.


26ναί, ὁ πατήρ, ὅτι οὕτως εὐδοκία ἐγένετο ἔμπροσθέν σου. 

Yes, Father, because such was pleasing before you.” 

ἐγένετο : AMI 3s, γίνομαι to become

1. This verse is very difficult to translate strictly word for word. The verb γίνομαι means “to become,” but it takes on many different tones depending on its context. Different translations show how much judgment is at work. They all agree that the verse begins with “Yes, Father”:

NASB: … for this way was well pleasing in Your sight.

NRSV: … for such was your gracious will.

YLT: … because so it was good pleasure before Thee.

NIV: … for this is what you were pleased to do. 

ESV: … for such was your gracious will. 

2. Here ends the prayer, in my judgment. 


27Πάντα μοι παρεδόθη ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐπιγινώσκει τὸν υἱὸν εἰ μὴ ὁ πατήρ, οὐδὲ τὸν πατέρα τις ἐπιγινώσκει εἰ μὴ ὁ υἱὸς καὶ ᾧ ἐὰν βούληται ὁυἱὸς ἀποκαλύψαι

“All things were handed over to me by my father, and no one knows the son except the father, nor does anyone know the father except the son and the one to whom the son wants to reveal. 

παρεδόθη : API 3s, παραδίδωμι to hand over

ἐπιγινώσκει : PAI 3s, ἐπιγινώσκω to recognize

ἐπιγινώσκει : PAI 3s, ἐπιγινώσκω to recognize

βούληται: PMSubj 3s, βούλομαι to want 

ἀποκαλύψαι: AAInf, ἀποκαλύπτω to reveal

1. This is an interesting commentary on what Jesus meant when he thanked God that God had hidden things from the smarties and revealed them to the babies in v.25. There’s a lot to consider here. 

2. “No one knows the son except the father.” That’s a curious statement, isn’t it? This chapter began with John the Baptist, unsure of whether Jesus was the coming one or whether he and his disciples ought to look elsewhere. Jesus’ answer is to evangelize John, that is, to proclaim the good news of what Jesus is doing. Verse 5 is a great summary of Jesus’ ministry and v.6 says, “Blessed is anyone who does not take offense at me.” So, there seems to be some degree to which one can know Jesus – or at least not be offended by Jesus – by his works. But, here, Jesus says “No one knows the son except the father.”  

Later in this chapter, Jesus criticizes his critics, for despising both the way of John and the way of Jesus, as different as they are. Even later, Jesus criticizes towns that should be faithful, but are even less so than Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. So, it does seem Jesus critics are ‘the wise and learned’ from whom Jesus says God has hidden the truth. For them, at least, we can say “They don’t know the son.” But Jesus says here, “No one knows the son except the father.” 

In his prayer, Jesus says that God has revealed the hidden things to the infants. But Jesus says here, “No one knows the son except the father.” 

I’m not quite sure what to make of it. 

3. And Jesus says that knowing the father is a matter of revelation, with the son as the gatekeeper. The word ‘reveal’ here is the same as in v.25, ἀποκαλύψαι (apocalypse). That statement would surely rile the folks who have always looked to Moses and the prophets as their source of divine revelation. This could be a very harsh moment of supersessionism for Matthew’s gospel. If it is, it is in the context of Jesus’ rejection by the like of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. 


28 Δεῦτε πρός με πάντες οἱ κοπιῶντες καὶ πεφορτισμένοι, κἀγὼ ἀναπαύσω ὑμᾶς. 

Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

κοπιῶντες : PAPart npm, κοπιάω to toil

πεφορτισμένοι: PerfMPart npm, φορτίζω to load with

ἀναπαύσω: FAI 1s, ἀναπαύω to rest

1. Since “I will rest you” doesn’t really sound right, we’ll expand this to mean “give you rest” like normal translations. 


29 ἄρατε τὸν ζυγόν μου ἐφ' ὑμᾶς καὶ μάθετε ἀπ' ἐμοῦ, ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι καὶ ταπεινὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ, καὶ εὑρήσετε ἀνάπαυσιν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν: 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest in your souls. 

ἄρατε: AAImpv 2p, αἴρω to take up

μάθετε : AA Impv 2p, μανθάνω to learn

εἰμι : PAI 1s, εἰμί to be 

εὑρήσετε : PAI 2p, εὑρίσκω to find

1. The verb for “take up my yoke is indeed the same as “take up one’s cross” in Mt. 16:24. 

2. The noun for “yoke” ζυγόν is related to the verb συ-ζεύγνυμι, which describes marriage in Mt. 19:6. 

3. The verb for “learn” is related to the noun, μαθητής, which is typically translated “disciple” or “learned follower.” 

4. The noun ἀνάπαυσιν, “rest,” is the nominal form of ἀναπαύσω in the previous verse. 


30ὁ γὰρ ζυγός μου χρηστὸς καὶ τὸ φορτίον μου ἐλαφρόν ἐστιν

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί to be

1. I am assuming that the verb ‘to be’ is intended to govern both of the nouns, yoke and burden. 



  1. Our lectionary goes on to include verses 25-30, and I would love your thoughts on verse 25. Translated as "At that time"--a phrase repeated at the beginning of chapter 12, the Greek uses 'kairos' to define the time at which Jesus thanks God and calls the weary to take up his yoke. Does "At that time" function as connecting the previous though regarding the woes with the next thought of thanksgiving? Does it function as a transition, essentially disconnecting the two? The use of 'these things' seems to support the former--connecting the thoughts and suggesting that the wise and intelligent do not understand the depth of sin that exists among 'respectable people,' but the innocent and child-like can see it clearly. Is that the burden being carried which Jesus invites his disciples to lay down? Is it that those who recognize the injustice and perversion of everyday life simply cannot bear the truth alone? Though, perhaps, that line of thinking would lead to the dangerous waters of justifying one to simply not respond to injustice by way of letting God take care of it. Just pondering 'out loud.'

  2. Hi Friend,
    I find vv.25-30 to be interesting, but a bit disjointed when added to vv.16-24. I think Luke 10 has done a much better job of sending the 70, then reproaching the unrepentant cities, then when the 70 return, thanking God for revealing Godself to the children and not the "wise."
    In Matthew, after commissioning the 70 in the 10th chapter, it does not appear that Jesus actually sends them out.
    So, I cannot tease out too much about what "at that time" means. I've always like Paul Tillich's insistence that kairos is the 'right time' as opposed to chronos meaning chronological time, but that is a better theological argument than a biblical one.
    Matthew uses this phrase in 12:1 and 14:1 also. Looking at all three uses, it is hard for me to say with confidence that it signifies more than just a way of moving the story forward. In our text, however, I would be inclined to see it in connection with the question in v.16: To what shall I compare this generation?
    Still, I'm not sure what to make of it.

  3. Hi Everyone, this is Mark. I have added vv. 25-30 to the original post. FYI.

  4. Some interesting work on καθημένοις ἐν ταῖς ἀγοραῖς ἃ προσφωνοῦντα τοῖς ἑτέροις suggest that the agora was more than what we consider 'marketplace' and included a legal/court setting; while 'being seated' usually referred to a judicial function and προσφωνοῦντα referred to a formal address vs. 'calling out.' [Testamentum XXIX, 4 (1987) THE PARABLE OF THE CHILDREN IN THE MARKET-PLACE, Q.(LK) 7:31-35: AN EXAMINATION
    OF THE PARABLE’S IMAGE AND SIGNIFICANCE by WENDY J . COTTER C .S.J. in EBSCO]. Suggests 'this generation' is acting like judges while they are themselves immature. Worth a look.

  5. 'And wisdom is justified by her works' - maybe that Wisdom was rejected by the 'children seated (in judgment) in the Agora' but is justified beyond that rejection in what emerges in both John and Jesus?


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