By Benedict Augustine
“For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine,
and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
Although critics like to blame a speaker, the problem most often lies with the critics, not the one delivering the speech. The speaker could take many different approaches, tailoring his message to suit such a difficult group of people who may have a seriously misguided view of the world, but they would criticize him all the same. They might say he was too serious, or not serious enough; too cold, or too emotional; too scholarly, or too dumbed down; too formal, or too casual. The critic must validate himself somehow.Even the most cursory skim of commentary on the current presidential debates will demonstrate this fact.
Ironically—though perhaps predictably—both John and Jesus, universally admired and revered preachers, somehow fail to resonate with their critics, a group notoriously high on cleverness but pitifully low on wisdom. To be fair, both John and Jesus always make sure to return the favor, saving their most severe rebukes for these critics. When the Pharisees, Sadducees, or Scribes would remark on points of style or delivery—which all such critiques of observing the Sabbath, talking to Gentile women, or touching a corpse really come to mean—the two cousins would sharply respond with a comment on their immorality.
Rhetorically speaking, casting aspersions on character willusually qualify as a deflection from a real issue, a sign of logical weakness, yet Jesus and John actually use their rebuttals as a way of honing in on the real problem. They make the case that outward behavior in the form of rituals or customs should reflect what rests inside a person. Done with sincerity, good or respectful behavior serves as proof for goodwill and humility. So lost in formalities were these critics that they completely lost sight of what always lay underneath. The hundreds of commandments (and the thousands of prescriptions subsequently tacked on to those commandments) merely represented so many facets of love that man owed to God and his neighbor.
Both John and Jesus make this point, again and again. Still, the critics persist in launching their petty gibes, their captious questions, and lethal conspiracies. In acting thus, they only prove the truth of the prophet and his messiah. They completely misinterpret God and their neighbor, adopting a ridiculously narrow definition of both: their only neighbors were fellow Jews of a certain class and ideology, and their God only cared about His people reoccupying the tiny landmass of Palestine.
Like most clever yet foolish people, the critics of Jesus and John suffer from the sin of envy. These men who were the best equipped to receive and understand the gospel fall to the temptation of rejecting this great gift for the sake of their egos. They cannot permit that another man, or even God’s Own Son, should know more than them. If they did, they could have learned to become great saints destined for heavenly glory; instead, they line up in the ranks of Jesus’ nameless persecutors.
Victims, or practitioners, of such unnecessary or illogical criticism, should take heart from these words of Jesus. It is usually a sign of envy lurking in a person’s heart. The boss, colleague, friend, or anyone who indulges in seemingly pointless criticism has probably fallen to envy. Envy induces people to becoming critics, and it is a difficult thing to shake off if one is unaware. Making the situation wore, those who harbor envy often suffer from a loss of perspective and might redouble their criticism while those who suffer from it might respond by developing their own form of envy to cope.
Jesus has advice for both the critics and their victims. For the former, he recommends that they see how absurd their criticism has become, to the point that they are finallysatisfied with nothing, including themselves. To the latter, he tells them not to worry since the fault lies with the critics, not them. These people criticize because they envy (i.e., want to have and be like) the group in question. Rather, the critics should be pitied and loved so that they can escape their condition.
Anyone who strives in life will suffer criticism. If this comes from a position of love, then he should take heed. If it comes from a position of envy, then he should take it as validation of progress and persevere. The wisdom of the cross proves that all truly good people who perform truly good acts will inevitably suffer because a fallen humanity inhabits the earth.
Fortunately the cross brings redemption, and because it does, Jesus can say that “wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”