Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Play Your Song"

Text: Matthew 11:16-19

Psalm 30:8-12

             This morning’s passage is one that causes us to scratch our heads.

Let’s first set the context. John the Baptist had been imprisoned by King Herod. From prison, John sent word via his friends to Jesus, asking if He was really the awaited Messiah, or if there was another yet to come. Jesus sent this word back to John: “….the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed isanyone who takes no offense at me.” After the messengers leave to return to John, Jesus speaks highly of his incarcerated cousin, and concludes with these words that cause us to scratch our heads:

            (Read Matthew 11:16-19)

            Did you ever throw a party and no one showed up? Vale and I did once. The year after we were married, we invited several people to our small apartment for a taco party on New Year’s Eve. We didn’t ask for RSVP’s assuming that folks would just show up. It turned out to be a rather cold and snowy evening – not crippling -and a few people did call to say they wouldn’t be able to make it, but we were optimistic. As it turned out, though, the only one who made it was Vale’s cousin Steve who would crawl through a blizzard on hands and knees for Vale’s tacos and refried beans. While we made the best of our three person taco party, we were pretty bummed out. In spite of the inclement weather, we felt sort of rejected by those folks we believed enjoyed our company. We ended up eating tacos and refried beans for every lunch and supper over the course of the following week. Even in light of every reasonable explanation, have you ever felt that sort of rejection when no one showed up at your party?

            This is an especially common thing for those whose vocation is in church work. There was a pastor who began keeping a journal which, over the years, evolved into a book of reflections on his ministry. Much of what he wrote really hit home for me. It may hit where you live as well. Here’s some of what he penned: “When I first graduated from theological seminary, I was very thinskinned. As one thing I offered after another seemed to flop, questions and doubts plagued me. How could I offer this course in Sunday School and no one come? Why was there such disappointing attendance at worship last week? Where was everybody for the annual church picnic? Why didn’t people who agreed to serve on committees show up for meetings? It must be that they don’t like me, or don’t want to work with me.”

            I think that most of us, at one time or another, have felt that way – in our work or vocation, at school, as a part of a civic or community organization, among in-laws, in church. Yet we learn – as I as a pastor have learned and am still learning – to set aside those feelings and consider deeper issues and real reasons underlying what we may wrongly perceive as an outright jilt. Even so, whatever the reason, justified or not, we’ve felt that sting of rejection, and it truly hurts. I believe that Jesus, in the fullness of His humanity, shares with us the sting of rejection as this morning’s passage from Matthew illustrates. After returning word to John the Baptist to judge Him on the testimony of His deeds, and after His glowing commendation of John’s legitimacy as a prophet, Jesus expresses a degree of pain at the rejection both He and John had encountered in their respective ministries, saying this: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” [scratch head] It seemed no matter where Jesus went or what Jesus did, there were always folks around who second-guessed His every move, especially those in religious circles. Why are you sitting down and eating with sinners? Why do you go into the house of a tax collector? Why do you heal on the Sabbath? Why did you allow that harlot to touch you? They were always seeking ways to delegitimize and reject Jesus’ ministry, however hard He tried to do right. And so Jesus said in effect, in what I interpret as a moment of profound frustration: What is it with these people? It’s like children at play, each one wanting to call the game, yet no one else willing to play it. Did Jesus’ feelings ever get hurt? Did Jesus ever feel utterly rejected? Did Jesusever question within Himself whether it was worth all the hassle when people didn’t respond to Hisinvitations? Of course He did. Otherwise He did not fully share with us the depth of human experience.   It seemed no matter how much Jesus went out of His way to reach out to and reason with His critics, it was a no-win situation. They could not see what Jesus’ coming, and teaching, and ministry were all about. They were only bent on silencing this son of Joseph whom they saw as a great danger to their religious status quo. There could not be any real resolution to this conflict. Although Jesus loved everyone, even those who were His fiercest critics, He still found his patience tested and his emotions tweaked. I believe that’s what we see in this head-scratcher of a text. I’m certain Jesus asked Himself on more than one occasion: What do they want from me? Why do they stand against me at every turn? With the good I try to do, why must they find fault in everything? For nothing seemed to satisfy His detractors, they pointing out how Jesus acted against the Mosaic Law, how He could not be from God, and surely not the long-awaited Messiah. Even John – forerunner, and announcer, and baptizer of Jesus – got caught up in this whirlwind of skepticism.  

            Jesus then goes on to make the observation that John “came neither eating nor drinking” and they called him demon-possessed. Regarding Himself, Jesus added that He did come eating and drinking, and they called Him “a glutton and a drunkard.” In other words, darned if you don’t, and darned if you do. Their testimony was rejected whether they piped, or whether they wailed. When we are faced with criticism for doing what we’re sure is right; when we’re feeling jilted and rejected for our belief and testimony -whether at work, or at school, or in the community, or among family and friends, or even in church -the only thing we can do is try to follow in the Lord’s footsteps, for He’s walked it ahead of us. Jesus concluded this discourse adding: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” That is to say, if we’re doing that which is wrong, it will ultimately be revealed in failure. On the other hand, if we are doing that which is right -despite our critics and how they try to silence and reject us -that too will be ultimately revealed in success. This is wisdom’s test and vindication.

            Jesus knew life’s frustrations. So do we, especially when we are the ones providing the music, and no one shows up to dance, or providing the dirge, and no one shows up to mourn. Maybe it’s the wrong song. Maybe it’s the right song, but the wrong time. Then again, maybe it’s that a certain person or persons will have it in for us no matter what we try to do. This is a harsh reality of life. Just as we face it, Jesus faced it. Yet Jesus remained true to Himself, as John the Baptist remained true to himself, as we must remain true to ourselves. Sooner or later, someone will respond; will dance to our song, will mourn to our dirge. Until then, we may have to endure those feelings of rejection even as we continue believing and doing what we know to be right. Faithfulness and truth will triumph in the end. Walking the steps Christ walked before us, let’s play the song God gives us, and await that great day when the world will respond.