Jesus said to the crowd, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'” (Matthew 11:16-17)
My initial reaction to this passage was “Huh?” Indeed, on first reading, it is difficult to see what Jesus is getting at in making this comparison. What does children whining that no one is paying attention to them have to do with the Kingdom of God?
But the truth is that apathy is our typical reaction to much of what we learn in our faith, isn’t it? John Wesley, the famous 18th century Anglican preacher who, along with his brother Charles, planted the seeds that eventually became the Methodist Church, was often and roundly criticized for “enthusiasm.” He was an avid open air preacher, gathering a crowd wherever he could find a few to listen, and encouraging a personal and life-changing encounter with Jesus. This sometimes produced dramatic and radical commitment on the part of his hearers and many of his fellow clerics found these on-fire believers to be rather a pain in the neck.
Today, we remain leery of those who seem too enthusiastic about their faith. We may chuckle at the Green Bay Packers’ football fans who paint their chests yellow and green in freezing temperatures. We are mildly annoyed by those who are a little too enthusiastic with the pictures of their grandchildren or their last vacation. But people who are too enthusiastic about their faith? We move to the other side of the room and secretly hope they don’t talk to us.
Hence Jesus’ analogy. He comes proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven — a more engaging and exciting vision one could not imagine. And like the children, whether playing the flute with joy or wailing in sorrow, no one gets excited. No one seems to care.
Historically, what kills the church is not opposition. Indeed, even a cursory reading of church history shows that the church consistently grows and strengthens in times of persecution. What kills the church is not in-fighting. There’s been enough of that in the Christian Church to kill it many times over. What kills the church is apathy, seeing something that should delight us and just giving it a “meh.”
So, I ask us all: Are we a part of the problem, or a part of the solution?
This column appeared in the July 5, 2020 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
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