Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fickle Children and Obstinate Cities

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Matthew 11:16 -24, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A. 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.
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 ἄνθρωπος φάγος 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? 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 well=-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!”


  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.


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