When I was searching for some information about the games in the times of Jesus I came to know more about these market place games of Jewish children. Jesus compares these children to the Pharisees and Scribes who were always finding fault in his teachings.
The parable of the playing children
“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to one another, ‘we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”(Matthew 11: 16-19)
Jesus explaining about Messiah and Elijah
Jesus was trying to explain to the people about the common belief that Elijah would come before the coming of Messiah and John the Baptist was Elijah who had come to prepare the way for Christ. In spite of making it clear to them by his words and confirming it by his miracles, some of the people, mainly the Pharisees and the Scribes, were not ready to pay heed to the words of Jesus. It is in these circumstances, that Jesus tells them this parable of market place children.
The market place children game
It was a team game played by the Jewish children of Jesus’ time. Children of two teams played this game. When one team played flute the other team should dance and when one team wails the other team should mourn. But sometimes these children did not cooperate or participate in the game even though in the beginning they agreed to play the game.
A comparison to the stubborn babies
It looks like a mother trying to pacify a crying baby. When the child makes noise the mother tries to detract its attention of the stubbornly whimpering baby with some rattling toys. If the noise does not prove effective, she may sing a lullaby or some nursery rhyme. Most often children stop crying and are immersed in the rattling noise or the singing. But some children are very stubborn to the extreme and continue crying until they are consumed with exhaustion.
In this parable, the reference is to the stubborn and insistent Pharisees and Scribes who were not ready to accept the truth even though they could understand it. Matthew speaks of 14 generations, starting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob down to David. (Mt. 1:17) Here the term generation indicates the stubborn group of Pharisees and Scribes. It refers not only to them but also to all those who are stubborn saying lame excuses to accept the truth, closing their eyes even after seeing the truth.
An Advent thought
This parable may be a good preparation to prepare ourselves during this Advent. We should not stand unwilling like those children in the game. Let us listen carefully to the Book of Revelation about such reluctant people who were neither hot nor cold. “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot…So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of mouth…Be earnest, therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3: 15-19). Let us pay heed to the call from the desert. It is high time that we turn our hearts towards our loving Father!