7As John's followers were going away, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John:
What sort of person did you go out into the desert to see? Was he like tall grass blown about by the wind? 8What kind of man did you go out to see? Was he someone dressed in fine clothes? People who dress like that live in the king's palace. 9What did you really go out to see? Was he a prophet? He certainly was. I tell you that he was more than a prophet. 10 In the Scriptures God says about him, “I am sending my messenger ahead to get things ready for you.” 11I tell you no one ever born on this earth is greater than John the Baptist. But whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John.
12 From the time of John the Baptist until now, violent people have been trying to take over the kingdom of heaven by force. 13All the Books of the Prophets and the Law of Moses told what was going to happen up to the time of John. 14 And if you believe them, John is Elijah, the prophet you are waiting for. 15If you have ears, pay attention!
16You people are like children sitting in the market and shouting to each other,
17“We played the flute,
but you would not dance!
We sang a funeral song,
but you would not mourn!”
18John the Baptist did not go around eating and drinking, and you said, “That man has a demon in him!” 19But the Son of Man goes around eating and drinking, and you say, “That man eats and drinks too much! He is even a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet Wisdom is shown to be right by what it does.
Those in the crowds who were listening to Jesus were well acquainted with John and his preaching in the wilderness. What John preached signified that something extraordinary was about to happen and that repentance was the order of the day. Jesus challenges the crowd to consider again why they journeyed to the wilderness. It was not to see a reed swaying in the wind or to see a man dressed in fine clothes. They went to hear a prophet, and Jesus readily pays tribute to John and cites Malachi 3:1. He is more than a prophet: he is the one who has announced the coming of Messiah. Once again Jesus is articulating his own identity.
It’s not as though the message is not clear. What is missing is the peoples’ capacity to hear what is being proclaimed. John comes fasting, living on very little and they say he has a demon. The Son of Man comes eating and drinking and is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. The people are discontents and it seems nothing will please them. They are like self-centred children who invite others to join their games but strictly on their own terms. It is the childish desire for control.
The deafening sounds of our contemporary culture make it difficult still to hear and respond to the gospel. We are encouraged to be masters of our own destiny and to resist the call to follow another. But we will never flourish until we relinquish control and turn to the One who has created and redeemed us and invited us to be full participants in the kingdom.
“If you have ears, pay attention!” Father, thank you for these words of Jesus and the reminder that I need to listen to what you say. Protect me from the self-centredness that keeps me from hearing—give me an open and receptive heart.