Is it right to think that Jesus is asking people why they are unhappy with John's preaching of repentance for forgiveness? Forgiving the sins of the tax collectors and sinners, as well as uplifting people in poverty who are followers of John, is he wondering why are they not dancing when having either been baptized into faith or upheld as forgivers? Also, is Jesus asking why are people so happy when they should be sad, as in the many sufferings he is healing or the many sinners he is trying to show forgiveness to?

Has God played the flute with John, and sang the dirge with Jesus, then the kids in the marketplace understand the value but cannot afford to have faith?

Or is it that John is not dancing and Jesus is not lamenting? John has not danced to the flute of children, and Jesus has not lamented at their discontent, because they have faith in God and have a better idea of life that they want to share with kids who are so interested in prosaic passtimes? These kids who are discontent will not listen because their focus is preoccupied?

Or, is it about a middle path, that we may have neither the time to dance or to lament in seeking God's love in earnest? That John did neither dance or lament, seeking to prepare the way in the wilderness and that Jesus did both in seeking the lifestyles of man, but then both, in seeking to help, found some sort of middle ground and made a way for all the lifestyles of man together as prophets of our salvation? Yet there is discontent because people may not believe or take action in their faith, which is forgiven but not everyone will partake of god's forgiveness. So has god has found some sort of middle ground, saving those who find faith in Jesus' teachings?

  • Hi Tristan, welcome to BHSE! Please take the Site Tour to help you get oriented around the scope of the site and how it all works. This question has been flagged as 'Needs More Focus' and is likely to be closed in its current form, as it is asking far too many questions to reasonably be answered in one response. Please do have a try at editing the Question to give it a clearer focus and a single particular Question you're interested in. If appropriate, you could also consider breaking it into multiple Questions.
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  • The question is an expression of an opinion regarding the passage. If I were to answer, I would have to express and opposing opinion. Such arguments are not the purpose of this site. I have voted to close.
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    Commented Feb 26, 2020 at 23:19
  • This question is about intepreting the parable. I offered several interpretations to show my confusion and interest. There is neither a requisite agreement or disagreement (false dichotomy), and each could be simply answered with a yes or a no, or an explanation. I did not think I should ask a question about each possible interpretation but I will if you think that would be clearer and more within the bounds of this site's purpose in communication. Instead of waiting for a response and then asking about the other interpretations, I put them all in the initial presentation of my issue. Commented Mar 3, 2020 at 0:24

3 Answers 3


31 To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ 33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.

What Jesus is saying is that the people of this generation are going to be dissatisfied regardless, rejecting both John and Jesus based on what they do that makes them feel inadequate.

So the children who play the flute to make people dance refuse to be moved to tears by those who can sing dirges, and the children who sing dirges to make people weep refuse to be moved to dance by those who play the flute.

In the same way, people didn’t like John the Baptist because compared to him they were indulging too much, and they didn’t like Jesus because compared to him they were not interacting with people enough.


It appears Jesus is alluding to - in a variant version - a popular fable (Young, The Parables, pg. 20). Aesop has a fable - The Fisherman and his flute - where the fisherman is playing his flute, trying to make the fish dance but they won't dance. Then he catches them in his net and they begin to dance (on the ground) but by then it is too late.

"Early one morning, a fisherman skilled in music took his flute and his nets to the seashore. Standing on a rock, he played several tunes in the hope that the fish, attracted by his melody, would dance into his net, which he had placed below. At last, having waited in vain, he laid aside his flute, and casting his net into the sea, made an excellent haul of fish. When he saw them leaping about in the net he said, "Silly creatures, you would not dance for me before and now I am no longer playing, you do so"

This fable was found in Herodotus Histories. It is applied in a political fashion to those who arrive at the king too late when they could have responded earlier.

The second half of the verse "sang a dirge" is not in Aesop's fable but it follows - We sang a funeral dirge but you did not respond properly.

The message: If you do not pay attention when a benefit is offered to you then it does you no good when you are forced into action.

From Brad Young, The Parables, pg. 20 - "the fish ignore the music of the flute. They are free and arrogant."

The fish should have responded to the fisherman's flute out of their own free will and they would have lived.

Jesus - uses this well-known story to speak of his own generation that did not heed the message when it was first brought to them from John. John is a prophet

'Behold, I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare Your way before you."

John's message: "Repent!" Since they did not repent - then when judgment comes - there will be nothing the king - Jesus - can do for them.

Brad Young, The Parables, pg. 21: "John the Baptist is like the fisherman who played his flute. Many did not respond. At the final judgment, they will dance."

The men of this generation could have listened to John but they choose not to.


I don't think the fable works well, because it would put Jesus and John in the position of calling the tune. It's clear from the context that John and Jesus are the ones being accused of not dancing or weeping. Jesus is being criticized for not being ascetic like John, but John also was criticized, apparently for being ascetic. So Jesus says the people criticizing are like children--one minute unhappy because someone won't dance to the happy tune they play; the next minute unhappy because someone won't weep when they sing a dirge. Capricious, and expecting everyone to dance their tune, or to play the game of the moment.

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