|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
11:16-24 Christ reflects on the scribes and Pharisees, who had a proud conceit of themselves. He likens their behaviour to children's play, who being out of temper without reason, quarrel with all the attempts of their fellows to please them, or to get them to join in the plays for which they used to assemble. The cavils of worldly men are often very trifling and show great malice. Something they have to urge against every one, however excellent and holy. Christ, who was undefiled, and separate from sinners, is here represented as in league with them, and polluted by them. The most unspotted innocence will not always be a defence against reproach. Christ knew that the hearts of the Jews were more bitter and hardened against his miracles and doctrines, than those of Tyre and Sidon would have been; therefore their condemnation would be the greater. The Lord exercises his almighty power, yet he punishes none more than they deserve, and never withholds the knowledge of the truth from those who long after it.
Verses 16-19. - Yet both John and he himself are rejected, though the results of their efforts were such as to fully justify the apparent difference of their methods. Parallel passage. Luke 7:31-35. Verses 16, 17. - But. In contrast to the obedience asked for in ver. 15, this generation closes its ears. Whereunto shall I liken. A common rabbinic phrase, which is often found in the fuller form recorded in Luke, "Whereunto shall I liken... and to what are they like?" (see Matthew 7:24, note). This generation?. It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. There are two ways of understanding the illustration which our Lord here uses.
(1) Many modern commentators (e.g. Meyer; Trench,' Studies,' p. 148) insist on the grammar and on the historical order in which the complaints are made, and believe that the Jews correspond to the pipers and the mourners, while it is John that refuses to rejoice, and our Lord that will not be sad.
(2) But the more usual interpretation is preferable. For
(a) in an illustrative saying one has chiefly to regard its general sense;
(b) in vers. 18, 19 the action of John and of our Lord in "coming" corresponds to the activity of the children;
(c) this interpretation seems much more in accordance with the context. The verses are therefore to be understood as meaning- John mourned in urging repentance, our Lord rejoiced in gospel liberty and preaching, but both alike were only ridiculed by the Jews. Markets; marketplaces (Revised Version); for there is no thought of the children helping their elders in traffic. And calling (which call, Revised Version) unto their fellows. Addressing them, but not necessarily noisily (Luke 6:13; Luke 13:12).
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But whereunto shall I liken this generation? The men of that age, the stubborn and perverse Jews; who were pleased with nothing, with no man's ministry, neither with John's, nor with Christ's, but found fault with whatever they heard, or saw done:
it is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling to their fellows: that is, the case of such persons may be fitly represented by children in a public market, calling to their companions, to pipe or mourn with them, and who are so morose and sullen as to do neither: for the men of that generation, are not the good natured children, that called to their fellows, and were willing to join in innocent diversions and exercises; but rather John the Baptist, Christ and his disciples, who may be compared to "children", for their harmlessness and simplicity; and are represented as "sitting in markets", places of concourse, where much people met together; which may intend the synagogues and temple, and other public places, which they made use of to publish their doctrines in, to preach to, and exhort the people; and as "calling to their fellows", to their contemporaries, to those of their own nation, by the external ministry of the word.
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