The Rev’d Roger Elks
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I remember a colleague at work telling me a story which summed up, he said, his wife, (I’m sure it wasn’t true) that she could buy him two ties for Christmas. He would go upstairs, put one on, come down, and she would say, “What’s wrong with the other one?”. And the argument that he would like to put forward is: that there’s no pleasing some people. That is what is going on in today’s reading.
New International Version – UK
31 Jesus went on to say, ‘To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the market-place 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.”
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.’
There’s no pleasing these people, says Jesus. John the Baptist came and was austere and you said he was mad. The son of Man, Jesus, comes and mixes with people and enjoys life, and you say he’s a drunkard. Either way, the Pharisees could not be pleased.
I remember going to a Cliff Richard concert when I was a young teenager with my sister. My sister was a Cliff Richard fan and Mum came with us, as you did with your 11 and 12-year-old children. And it was quite loud, as you might imagine, as concerts often are. Not as loud as some, but there was loud Cliff Richard. And so Mum took some tissue out of her handbag and put the tissue in her ears in order to reduce the noise of the concert. All was well, and on the way home, we said, did you enjoy it? She said, “yes, I did. But people didn’t clap very loud, did they?”
And you see, that’s the problem. “It’s too loud for my ears and then the clapping is too quiet”. And of course, the problem was not the loudness of Cliff Richard or the quietness of the clapping. The problem was that mum had tissue in her ears. And the problem is often not that some people are right and some people are wrong. The problem is that we ourselves have a prejudice; we have a bias. We have a tissue in our ears, which means we cannot hear the truth. Another metaphor would be that we have sunglasses on so everything looks dark through our sunglasses. And it’s not until we take the tissue out, or take the glasses off, that we begin to hear and see things as they really are.
Whatever the prejudices and bias of the Pharisees, they couldn’t see the truth in John the Baptist; God’s word speaking through the greatest prophet who ever lived. And neither could they see the truth of God speaking through Jesus Christ. They saw what their prejudices allowed them to see.
So this reading today helps us to understand that our prayer needs to be, “Heavenly Father, help us to let go of the things that stop us hearing and seeing the truth, so that we may deal with the truth, scary as it might be, but also the truth that informs us what God is really like, beyond our prejudices and bias and also what we are really like. So that in the light of the truth, we may change and the truth may set us free.
Let’s read the collect for today.
whose only Son has opened for us
a new and living way into your presence:
give us pure hearts and steadfast wills
to worship you in spirit and in truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.