Matthew 11:16-19 (NIV) “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, 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, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”
You just can’t please some people, and the religious leaders just couldn’t be pleased. They expected people to fit in with their viewpoint, or they considered them illegitimate.
John was an ascetic. He lived in the wilderness, fasted often, and even when he did eat, he ate weird stuff like locusts and wild honey. If anyone should have won the approval of the strict Pharisees, you would think it would be him! But at the same time, John was a fierce denouncer of a spirituality that was only at the surface. He had a keen ability to see past the rituals to the hearts that lay underneath, and he was not shy about speaking up about what he saw. When he called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers,” their only defense was to mount an ad hominem attack: the man was clearly demon possessed!
Jesus was at the opposite end of the spectrum. He didn’t fast, and He attended parties thrown by people like Matthew. He was easy-going and personable. But at the same time, He was just as passionate as John in His denunciations of the surface spirituality that He saw in the religious leaders, constantly pointing out to them how their vision was too small, and their interpretations of Scripture were too undergirded by a faulty world view. Again, their only defense was to resort to ad hominem attacks: this man is a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners!
Ad hominem attacks used as a defense tactic do not prove anything about the accused, but speak volumes about the attackers. In the end, the point was not about what John ate or where he lived; it was about the wisdom that he displayed in his life with God, and in how he perceived what was really going on in the hearts of the religious leaders. The point was not about what Jesus ate and drank, or who he dined with; it was about the power of God shining through His whole life that threw the narrow, sin-filled hearts of the Pharisees and Sadducees into sharp contrast. And those things shouted volumes that no amount of ad hominem attacks could ever drown out.
Father, it’s so easy for us to get defensive when opponents of the gospel start lobbing ad hominem attacks our way. But when that happens, we need to take a page from Jesus’ play book. We need to always make sure to keep our relationship with You intact and strong, and our lives pure and clean. And then we need to simply ignore the attacks, and let our lives speak for themselves about who we are in You. Thank You for this wisdom. Amen.