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).