Playing with our grandchildren is instructive for me.
Lorraine and I have 4 grandchildren whose ages span 10 years (4 to 14). So we grandparents have to adapt ourselves to different phases of childhood according to the particular grandchildren with whom we are playing. That’s part of the joy of grandparenthood. But it also can be challenging.
One of the dynamics that I have felt more keenly throughout these experiences is the struggle for control. This happens in various kinds of circumstances, but most intensely when we are role-playing in the games that our grandchildren devise. Who determines the stage on which we are playing? Who are the characters in the play, and what are their powers in relation to one another? Who “writes” the script and directs the play?
Sometimes in the course of our shared play, all this threatens to devolve into a battle of wills. At that point I have to call up extra reserves of patience and imagination to refocus and gently nudge the game into territory that is less combative and more cooperative. After all, the game is no fun if it’s only about winners and losers.
Sometimes I wish we could avoid such games altogether. But I know that I cannot blame my grandchildren for gravitating toward them. After all, as emerging personalities they are trying to figure out just how they fit into a world of imposed structure and order. That’s what the “terrible twos” are about.
You know what? I’ve come to the conclusion that the “terrible twos” never really end. They just ease up a bit, only to re-emerge now and again throughout the course of our lives.
O God, help us all for the sake of life together!
Prayer of the Day
You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised. You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Jesus must be frustrated. It sounds like he is beginning to wonder what it takes to make people listen to what God has to say.
You can hear it in his speech to the crowds: “To what shall 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.”
Children sitting in the marketplace are like children of any generation. They get bored. So they do what humans of any age will do: they make up games. In those games they act out what they observe in the social world of the home, the marketplace, and beyond. The games cover a wide range of human experience. Ultimately, they reflect scenarios of life and death.
Playing the flute and dancing has to do with marriage celebrations. In the ancient world, marriage was all about life – procreation, children, and a family legacy. Meanwhile, wailing and mourning has to do with funerals. Funerals are about death.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with devising and playing such games. In fact, it’s probably healthy for children to do that. When Jesus compares people to children playing such games in the marketplace, I don’t think it's the image of the games themselves that he's drawing upon to express his frustration. I don’t think Jesus is criticizing playtime. Rather, it's the rules that children inevitably make that Jesus is lifting up for us, so that we might see something about ourselves.
In my childhood, it would have gone like this: If you won't play the way we want to play, then you can't play with us at all. This, Jesus says, is what the people of his generation are like. He illustrates this by drawing attention to children in the marketplace, but he’s not picking on them in particular. After all, the children in the marketplace are only acting out what they observe in the social world around them.
What do you hear in Jesus’ declaration? I hear frustration. I hear some bitterness. Stated more directly, Jesus is saying something like this: What's wrong with you people? What does it take? 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!” My Heavenly Father is trying so hard for your sake, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference!
John and Jesus are at opposite ends of spiritual propriety. John was an ascetic. He favoured the wilderness, where he could shut himself off from the pollution of sin. He railed against the institution of religion of his day, and called people to come to him in the wilderness – away from the accepted rituals and routines – to be baptized by him for the sake of repentance.
Jesus, on the other hand, was a celebrant. According to John’s Gospel, he inaugurated his public ministry by turning water into wine so that a marriage celebration would not fall flat before it had a chance to get going. That set the tone. He conducted teaching and preaching tours where the primary venue for ministry was mealtime. Indeed, we could say that Jesus’ ministry was “a mealtime waiting to happen.” Where John sought righteousness by stripping away worldly contact, Jesus' ministry promoted worldly contact. Rather than protecting himself from the impurity of the world, he met it on its own terms.
In John and Jesus, we have both ends of the spectrum. And the people of their day rejected both. And with them, they rejected God. No wonder Jesus gets frustrated! No wonder he paints this caricature of children playing in the marketplace. What does it take?! How do you make people listen?!
The Good News is that our resistance does not stop Jesus, even though he expresses frustration and bitterness. Our demand that everyone – even God! – conform to our game-rules neither confines nor dissuades Jesus. Jesus persists in proclaiming and enacting the reign of God which knows no bounds … the reign which certainly is not confined by the games we play in our efforts to get people to conform to our ways.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus is speaking as if he were a seasoned and reliable ox that is yoked together with a new beast of burden. They stand side-by-side, so that the new one can learn from the experience and the accumulated wisdom of the one who has seen it all.
What does it take to open our ears and our hearts so that we finally hear God’s voice? It looks like it take two things: (1) you and me staggering under a burden, as if we were unprepared for it (like toiling and struggling under someone else’s game and rule-book); and (2) God knowing that burden and sharing it so as to relieve us.
That’s precisely why God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s precisely why God personalized the relentless heavenly determination to forgive us our sin. It was so that God could take upon the Divine self the consequences of our sin, together with the consequences of proclaiming forgiveness to a world that doesn’t want to hear it.
We’re talking about the cross. We’re talking about love so persistent that God goes with us even to grave … so that God may call forth new creatures, rejoicing in God’s abundance and sharing it with others who are likewise burdened.
We’re talking about the resurrection and new life. We’re talking about the future breaking into the present to transform us and the world around us.
We’re talking about the Holy Spirit, poured out upon a waiting world, so that you and I may have a new heart and a new mind – to freely engage with one another. We have the gifts of the Spirit so that we have the clarity and confidence to willingly learn the rules of life’s games and play by them – not because we need to conform, but out of love and mutual respect … because we are free to take up the game of life and play as full participants.
Meanwhile, we are not enslaved by any rules of any game. We are free. We belong to God through Jesus Christ. Thank God for God’s determination to meet us, walk with us, and share our burdens. This is our salvation.
Through Jesus Christ, God grant us Rest from the Rules. This is good news!