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In Luke 7:31-35 Jesus tells a short parable of sorts comparing the generation to children in a marketplace calling out to each other.

Jesus went on to say, "To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

    "'We played the pipe for you,
        and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge,
        and you did not cry.'

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is proved right by all her children."

On the face of it, the "we" in the song in verse 32 seems like the children, who seem to be "this generation." But the lines of the poem seem to reflect more the actions of John and Jesus - i.e. Jesus played the pipe and John sang the dirge, and the people have responded to neither.

Who then are the children in the marketplace? And why are they singing what they are singing?

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    Wins the 2015 award for "Best use of   on BH.SE". :) Personally, I've started using   as it cuts down on the number of entities required to get the desired effect. – Dɑvïd Jul 10 '15 at 17:44
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The "we" refers to the children of this generation. They are the ones who think they call the shots, but the men of God (John and Jesus) do not do what the scribes and Pharisees want. Notice how the actions line up.

Jesus went on to say, "To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

   "'We played the pipe for you,
        and you did not dance; (A)
    we sang a dirge,
        and you did not cry.' (B)

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine (A), and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking (B), and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is proved right by all her children."

The comparison in the parable is explicit. The people of the age are like children who say X. It is they who say "we did this but you did not act."

John is the one who would not dance and Jesus is the one who did not cry (at least, not here). The people of this age played the pipe yet John would not dance and refused to sit at the feast. Then, when they called for mourning, the Son of man would not cry but sat, ate, and drank with those outcasts. The children of the age are being bossy and upset that John and Jesus aren't obeying.

The parable is an ABAB pattern not ABBA. The second would be a chiasm.

(I've read this is a reference to a children's game like our own Simon Says, but can't find that citation now. In the game, the caller would sing a joyful song and the players would dance. Then, with no warning, he or she would switch to a dirge and the players would have to shift to crying. Then the caller would switch back and forth repeatedly.)

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    As an aside, you can get my 5-year-old to do almost anything if it means he will get to boss his older brother around in the doing. – Frank Luke Jul 10 '15 at 16:34
  • Nice analysis; oddly, I would have lined up JBap as "(B), who sang a dirge" = "neither eating bread nor drinking wine", and Jesus with "(A) who played the pipe" = "eating and drinking"! Which would have been the ABBA you dismiss. JBap and Jesus provide the stimulus, not model the response, no? In any case, the "we" in the song remains children of the marketplace scene -- which is simply a figure (metaphor) of the dynamic Jesus is describing. (Or, so I'm thinking now!) – Dɑvïd Jul 10 '15 at 17:39
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This is a parallel account in Scripture; Matt. 11:16-19 is almost identical to Luke 7:31-35,

εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Κύριος, Τίνι οὖν ὁμοιώσω τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης καὶ τίνι εἰσὶν ὅμοιοι.(Textus Receptus Stephanus 1550)(vs 31)

To what therefore will I liken the men the generation of this and to what are they like ?(Interlinear translation)

Τίνι, the interrogative pronoun, used twice, states a comparison: the men of this generation are being compared to children in the marketplace. But more specifically, he is calling the "men of this generation" the Pharisees and lawyers(scribes):(vs 30)

But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.

Since He prefaces the account in vs 24, talking about John the Baptist, it is John's baptism that the Scribes and Pharisees/men of this generation have rejected. Furthermore, when He says, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking", they reject Him as well, accusing Him of being the friend of tax collectors and sinners.

The point of comparison is the children; they are behaving like children who are playing a game which children left to their own devices play. They want everyone to do what they want them to do, but won't do what others want them to do.

Because the modern 'agora'(marketplace) bares little comparison to the ancient one, we miss the commonplace example that Jesus is making, but if you watch the behavior of young siblings waiting in a long checkout line, you see the same comparison; one (usually the older) wants his sibling to do something, while the younger wants the older sibling to do something, and neither is complying with the other's request. "Wisdom" therefore is understanding the children's behavior, it is petulant, not wanting to do what either child asks, but insisting the other does as they ask.

One could make the case that 'some' of the Pharisees(Nicodemus) 'danced' as Jesus made His entrance, and some 'mourned' rightfully so at the ministry of John the Baptist. The overwhelming majority seemed to have rejected the ministry of both, finding excuse and condemning both, so it is the rightful comparison of the children in the marketplace to the Scribes and Pharisees that leads us to understand Wisdom.

καὶ ἐδικαιώθη ἡ σοφία ἀπὸ τῶν τέκνων αὐτῆς πάντων(Luke 7:35 TR)
καὶ ἐδικαιώθη ἡ σοφία ἀπὸ τῶν τέκνων αὐτῆς(Matt. 11:19-last sentance TR)-the only difference being πάντων(all) which leaves the meaning and the points of comparison intact.

Summary

The children of the marketplace are the Scribes and Pharisees, who wouldn't "dance or sing" when they were being told to. The point of comparison isn't their 'singing or dancing', it is they are acting like children who refuse to do either.

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