Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’” Luke 7:31- 32
Jesus was skilled at the “art of questions,” a widely used method of teaching and learning between rabbis and disciples in the first century. In this teaching style, when a rabbi asked a disciple a question, the disciple would answer with a parallel question that would further illuminate the topic of discussion revealing to the teacher their depth of understanding.
Jesus asked many questions during his recorded ministry. Often he used simple, short questions like; “What do you think” to draw his disciples into a discussion for the purpose of engaging them. On the road to Emmaus, he engaged two men traveling together with the question; “What are you discussing?” When Jesus encounters blind Bartimaeus he asked him, “What do you want me to do” and then he asks the lame man, “Do you want to get well?” They were all questions that forced the people to verbalize their needs and truly consider their circumstances. In Caesarea Philippi, he asks his disciples one of the most important questions he ever asked, “Who do the people say I am? Jesus then focused in on Peter by asking Peter, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
It’s also interesting to note that when Jesus was attacked by the Pharisees challenging his authority to teach, he counters their questions with his own question. Jesus said, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” He trapped his accusers for they knew that if they said “From heaven” they would effectively recognize Jesus’ divine authority and origin and if they said “From men,” the people, who believed that John’s baptism was indeed from heaven, would revolt.
Lastly, Jesus used questions to instruct. Listen to what he says in Luke 7:31: “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? Answer: They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:” ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’”
I was in Istanbul just a few years ago when I remembered this passage. Middle Eastern markets are busy places with thousands of people moving about from vendor to vendor purchasing their products. It was in this type of setting that Jesus painted a picture for his audience; children playing a pipe or flute that would draw people in so that they would recognize their need and give them a few alms. Jesus then paints almost the opposite picture. This time, rather than playing a song to dance, it was children playing a dirge. Would those passing by these mourners notice their grief? Would the grief cause them to become aware of the needs of the children playing the dirge?
I am constantly challenged by this passage of scripture each time I read it realizing that Jesus was posing a question that is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. When was the last time we allowed our hearts to be moved by the needs around us? Has the grind of our normal routine caused us to grow dull to the needs and/or opportunities that we pass every day? Do we allow ourselves the emotional capacity to either dance in God’s presence or mourn with those that are grieving? Have we allowed the routine of life to limit our hearts from experiencing the full range of emotions that just might motivate change in us?
For my part, I want to hear the children playing the pipes! I want my heart to feel when I see the amazing works of God around me! Will I cry when the “least of these” play a dirge? Lord, may I respond to the questions in life by feeling and hearing what You are asking this generation.
Maybe just maybe, if we could hear and respond to the questions asked by our Heavenly Father through his Word and in times of contemplation, even with a few more questions of our own, we might be able to discern just a bit more of the answers that plague us in this life.