TO DANCE OR TO DIRGE? (Wisdom’s Many Children) Part 2

wisdom1In Part 1 we talked about how it takes more than one person, one church, one political party, or one culture to represent true wisdom, and how an over-identification with one over another is not only unwise but immature. Jesus said it reminded him of spoiled children whining about not getting their way.

“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.” Luke 7:31-34

John and Jesus weren’t opposites. The way they conducted themselves was not contradictory but complementary. They both represented wisdom, while, from the outside looking in neither displayed to the naked eye all that wisdom entails. [Note: Of course Jesus was and is all that wisdom is, but to the ascetics of the day, he wasn’t ascetic enough. Although we might point out that he was born in a cave, fasted for forty days, and had no house to live in. Fairly ascetic from my point of view.]

So, what is wisdom like? It’s like all of her kids put together. She’s “proved right,” Jesus says, by “ALL her children,” that is, it takes all her kids to demonstrate all she is. You can’t take just one of her kids and say, “Now, that’s what wisdom looks like!” No single one of her children can exhibit the totality of wisdom.

If you have multiple children yourself you’ve no doubt observed that while one child has your nose and another your smile, while another possesses your wit, etc. It takes all of them together to form a composite of you. Similarly, wisdom can’t be defined only by just one of her kids. It takes all of them to form a composite of her.

When we look at things like a child watching a parade through the proverbial knothole in the fence, we tend to miss a lot! Wise living is more nuanced than what can be reduced to a bullet point or two.

Jesus corrected both extremes with his parable about dirges and dancing. He speaks to all those who think all Christians should enjoy perpetual celebration and those who believed that true spirituality requires constant solemnity. Which way is the right way to be truly Christian – to dance or to dirge?

A pretty well-known wise person wrote that there are times for mourning and other times for dancing (Ecclesiastes 3). That same wise soul said in one breath in Proverbs 26:4-5:

            Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

So, which is it––answer him or not? Sometimes do and sometimes don’t. In other words, wisdom doesn’t always look the same.

Those who insist on wisdom looking only one way or another are “like children,” Jesus said. It’s childish to define true spirituality by only one activity or one perspective. It’s not only unwise, it’s immature and shallow to think that wise living can only look one way.

By definition, a child can’t be wise. He might smart and observant, but wisdom comes with age, trial and error, and living against the current of world opinion, with the fortitude to make godly choices more often than not.

Did you know that the word “philosophy” is a composite of two Greek terms: love and wisdom? By definition a philosopher then is supposed to be a person that loves wisdom. It’s my opinion that many of those who claim to love wisdom really only love the appearance of looking wise!

Those who insist that there’s only one way to express faith in Jesus, one sect, or one political party that God approves of are not wisdom lovers but lovers of the appearance of it––a photo-op wisdom.

“As our loyalties are detached from nation, club, race or other affiliation, our actual capacity for community increases. Patriotism is often only a bloated egotism. Prayer … enhances our skills of citizenry––our commitments, our involvements, our values, our passion for social justice.” Eugene Peterson (Author of The Message Bible)

James, who undoubtedly listened in on a number of his half-Brother’s sermons, contrasted true and false wisdom:

13 Are there any of you who are wise and understanding? You are to prove it by your good life, by your good deeds performed with humility and wisdom. 14 But if in your heart you are jealous, bitter, and selfish, don’t sin against the truth by boasting of your wisdom. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from heaven; it belongs to the world, it is unspiritual and demonic. 16 Where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is also disorder and every kind of evil. 17 But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy. 18 And goodness is the harvest that is produced from the seeds the peacemakers plant in peace. James 3:13-18 (The Message)

Dancing and dirging are not mutually exclusive activities. Wise people know when these activities are called for and do them at the appropriate times.


Are you aware that there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today? Did you know about Freedom House, a safe-house and therapeutic environment for trafficking survivors in the Bay Area? In addition to giving directly to them you can benefit the house financially by buying my book:  The Other End of the Dark.

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