But 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.” 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!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. (Matthew 11:16–19)
Throughout the New Testament, there are references to Jesus as the wisdom of God, and here Matthew makes the association explicit. Wisdom in Jewish tradition bears a variety of meanings, but the most dominant role wisdom takes on is that of a teacher calling out to the public to take him in (Prov. 1:20–21, 9:3). This concept of wisdom correlates well with Matthew’s overall definition of Christ’s nature, which focuses on Jesus’s role as a teacher, instructor, and sage (Matthew 11:1, 9:35).
In this parable, Jesus and John the Baptist can be interpreted to be the figures who call out from the marketplace, play the flute, dance, wail, and mourn. Those who will not join them are “this generation,” which will not hear God’s message. This interpretation is in keeping with the biblical figure of wisdom, which calls out to the public from marketplaces, crossroads, portals, and streets (Prov. 1:20–21, 8:1–3) and is met with similar rejection (Prov. 8:36–38). Wisdom says, “I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded” (Prov. 1:24–25). Wisdom opens the community and widens participation. Jesus/Wisdom is justified by the deeds that recognize all Israelites as its children: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 4–5). While these deeds justify Jesus, they are the source of Jesus’s rejection as a “glutton and a drunkard, friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:18).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1–5)
John’s emphasis on Jesus as the Word of God incarnated is indebted both to Greek philosophy and to his Jewish heritage. The Greeks developed the concept of a divine force governing the balance between binary opposites in the universe. They called this force Logos, best translated as “Word” or “Reason.” In many Greek conceptions, it is Logos that determines the balance between light and darkness, flesh and spirit. A world without Logos, the Greeks believed, would be chaos. The influence of the concept of the Logos was felt strongly by the Jewish sect knows as the Essenes, ascetics who believed that the world was shaped by struggles between opposing forces. John takes his philosophical inspiration, which manifests itself through his Christology and theology, from the Greeks via the Essenes. Jesus is the Word, the Logos, who is the instrument of total victory of light over darkness, its binary opposite: “What has come into being in him was life. And the life was the light of all people” (John 1:4). John’s reference to the Essene and Greek systems of philosophy to explain Jesus’s origin and significance is reflective of his Gospel’s careful pedagogical style. More than the authors of the other Gospels, John is concerned with explaining significance rather than recording facts.
For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26–28)
The meaning of this passage, written by Paul in a letter to the church at Galatians, is still very much at the center of controversy among biblical scholars today. Some scholars contend that Paul’s notion of equality here speaks of a spiritual or transcendental equality rather than a social equality. This interpretation diminishes the social implications of the texts. Others claim that Paul has in mind social or ecclesiastical equality with serious political implications. Biblical scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza argues that among Christ’s followers, status differences are no longer valid. Statements such as Paul’s reflect an equality that many scholars claim was present in the vision and practice of the earliest Christian missionary movement. Currently, many feminist and other biblical scholars are reconstructing the early Christian community to find important traces of social egalitarianism. Many point to this passage as one of the most important indicators of the egalitarian ideals of the early Christian community.
A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path, and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil and grew, and when it grew it produced a hundredfold. (Luke 8:5–8)
The parable of the sower is found in Matthew, Mark, and even some writings that are not in the Christian canon, such as the Gospel of Thomas. Because the parable is found in a relatively uniform manner in various places, and because scholars have concluded that Jesus spoke in parables, we can assume that this parable did in fact come from the historical figure of Jesus. The parable stresses the mystery of the unexpected acceptance of the Kingdom of God despite much failure in hearing, being heard, and understanding. In Mark’s version of the parable (Mark 4:14–20), Jesus interprets the parable for his inner circle of followers, though most scholars conclude that such interpretations were later additions by the early church. Mark’s allegorical interpretation reads the sower as the speaker of the good news, and the seed as the word with potential to take root and “bear fruit” (4:20). The path is interpreted as hearers who are vulnerable to various symbolic dangers. Birds represent the evil that takes away the work sowed in Christ’s followers. Rocky ground represents hearers who eagerly accept the word with enthusiasm but eventually fall away. Thorns represent listeners who are consumed with secular matters. The good soil represents hearers who patiently accept the word and eventually bear fruit.
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. [He] got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet . . . . After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “ . . . I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:1, 4–5, 12–17)
Here, Jesus forms and participates in a community based on service and love to one another, setting an example to be followed by each of his disciples. For John’s community, the purpose of the foot-cleansing here is not a ritual cleansing, such as Peter thinks, but the completion of Jesus’s full revelation of service and love. Throughout John’s Gospel, as this passage indicates, the exercise of leadership and power in the new ministry of Jesus is not one of ecclesiastical hierarchy, but one of love and service among a community of friends.
Take a Study Break!