31 ¶And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
32 They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.
34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
35 But wisdom is justified of all her children. (Luke 7:31-35)
The general impression I get from this parable is that Jesus was trying to say that the men of that generation were out of step with what God wanted while they accused the prophets and Jesus of being out harmony or out of step with them.
When I was reading this I decided I needed to analyze it more closely to see if there was more to learn from it.
First, Jesus says this about the men of that generation and compares them to children, not other men or even to women. To call them children expresses they are young and ignorant.
He also compares them to children sitting in the marketplace. Not sitting in the temple, not sitting on the seaside, not sitting at home. The marketplace is a place of business, of exchange. Real men and women are doing business in the marketplace, but these children are sitting doing something else. So spiritually speaking, that’s like saying the men of His generation were ignorant of the real business of life and the things of the Spirit, and they were sitting around doing something different while significant things were happening all around them.
What were they doing? They were playing dance music and then wondering why no one was dancing to it, or they were crying and wondering why no one else was crying too. It’s as if they thought their product (if it could be called a product) was the only thing in town or they thought they were offering something significant and appropriate and that others should follow their lead.
However, the opposite was true. They were not the only game in town, what they offered was insignificant and inappropriate, and they were not worth following. And they were missing out on the real spiritual business to be done because of ignorance.
A lesson from this for us today is how important it is to stay in step with the prophets and the real business of the gospel and working out our salvation. The minute we start thinking the prophet and apostles are out of touch, it is really us who are out of harmony, and anything we think we can add will be actually detracting and distracting.
Jesus noted how the men of His time thought John was a crazy ascetic on one hand and on the other dismissed Jesus for being too social with sinners. The styles of John and Jesus were very different from each other, and I imagine this was Heavenly Father’s way of using different strokes for different folks in order to reach as many as possible with the gospel. But at some level, you have to go beyond style and get to the substance. The substance of the message of John and Jesus was the same: believe in Christ and repent.
To me, a modern application of this is to carefully consider how we respond to the messages of the prophets and apostles. I know many of us have personal favorites among the First Presidency or Twelve Apostles. But of the ones we like less, do we dismiss their message because their style grates on us? Or can we stretch to receive their message regardless of their personality or delivery?
Today let’s open the conference edition of the Ensign to the talks of the apostles we like least. Let’s pray for the humility to receive the substance of their message while ignoring their style.