In our society we compare prices, job applicants, economies, athletes, markets… we’re experts at comparing ourselves to others.
What are we trying to achieve when we compare?
A comparison can help make an important decision or prove a point by revealing a mutual resemblance or stark difference.
Jesus uses the art of comparison to make a cutting statement about the culture of his day—directing his comments to the scribes and Pharisees:
“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to other children, and say ‘we played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’” (Matthew chapter 11, verses 16–17).
Jesus is comparing the generation of his time to children in a market place who hear one thing and ask for another; who get what they want and then prefer something else. The question is: ‘what do you really want?’
Talking ‘bout our generation
This passage in Matthew is as applicable to our generation as it was to Jesus’ original audience.
In the 1960s a similar context existed. During the sexual revolution, two popular slogans became society’s mantra: ‘do your own thing’ and ‘tell it like it is’. People valued personal truth—doing whatever you wanted to do. The second slogan was a biting indictment on the leaders in power—to be truthful and consistent.
The theologian R.C. Sproul uncovers the avenging irony of this thinking in his book, ‘When Worlds Collide’:
“But the youth culture that fed off the charge against the older generation’s hypocrisy, showed themselves capable of greatly exceeding their elders in the art of hypocrisy. For to insist that other people ‘tell it like it is’ assumes that there is an objective reality that can be expressed by objective truth; to thus embrace pure subjectivism for oneself while calling others to objectivism is hypocrisy in the extreme.”
I believe this is a result of one main thing: people are lost. People want a reality that is illogical and unliveable, but they want it anyway. In Jesus’s time it was as apparent through their vacillating—they did not want the truth.
In our present time it is no different, we frequently hear cries of wanting to know the truth of a matter. We ask ‘why is it right to deny equal rights to all?’ or ‘doesn’t a woman have the right to autonomy over her own body, to abort her child?’… the list goes on.
But when we get down to discussing these issues, the debate slowly becomes less of what is true and more about ‘what I want to do’; simply on the basis of my desire to do it.
More than a feeling
How do we get back to a culture where it is more about what is right and less about how we feel?
The theologian C.S. Lewis says this:
“A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good.”
We need to get back to God, because we have radically departed from him. We have done as Solzhenitsyn charged the Soviet Union with doing - ‘forgetting God’.
Tertullian, a Bishop of Carthage in the 2nd century, says this about Truth in his book, “Apology”:
“She has no appeals to make to you in regard of her condition, for that does not excite her wonder. She knows that she is but a sojourner on the earth, and that among strangers she naturally finds foes; and more than this, that her origin, her dwelling-place, her hope, her recompense, her honours, are above. One thing, meanwhile, she anxiously desires of earthly rulers—not to be condemned unknown.”
I highly commend this book to my generation. Truth is personified here, as it rightly should be, because Truth diagnosed the awful state of that generation, and Truth still speaks to this generation.
As Odd Thomas, a rapper and spoken word artist, so beautifully puts it: “He alone is honest and truthful wisdom personified”. This truth incarnate anxiously desires to be known and this is his message:
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah chapter 55, verses 6-7).
We are part of a generation echoing the childish behaviour of generations before. We are like children in the marketplace, seeking self-satisfaction and flitting from one desire to the next. We have forgotten God and desperately seek truth in all the wrong places.
For Jesus is Truth personified, a source of hope and direction in a world where feelings speak louder than actions or words. May we seek Jesus and so find God’s compassion.
Paul Lewis is a Staff Worker for Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in Kingston Jamaica, where he also resides. He has aspirations of becoming a Christian apologist and he loves reading, especially topics like: History, Philosophy and Theology. You can follow him on twitter @PaulAULewis
Paul Lewis' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/paul-lewis.html