I remember a cold winter for West Tennessee, so cold that the ditches that fed Sugar Creek out on the edge of the neighborhood froze several inches thick. It was a wonder that it would freeze at all with all the suds and sewer that drained into it. I remember one day when after discovering how hard the big ditch’s surface was that I scurried on back home and into Dad’s shed out back to collect his sledgehammer. I returned to the woods intent on seeing how thick the ice was. I now wonder what Mom or Dad would have thought if they had seen me lugging that sledgehammer and headed on up Owen Avenue toward Margin Street where I would take a right turn and head on down to the dead-end at the deep ditch which was my destination. I now wonder if Dad might have rushed out the door and tried to catch me because he hated to see me drag his tools outside, much less up the street where he might never see them again. But I expect I left unnoticed. I commenced to spend the rest of that frigid day breaking ice and letting off steamy breaths like an oldtimey steam-driven icebreaker ship cutting through the surface toward Sugar Creek. I had something like that going on in my imagination. I am sure I came back home soaked with ice crusted jeans and the smell of sweat and sewer.
Jesus told a brief parable about children playing in the streets. As children do, their games often involve imitation. In this case two games are alluded to in the parable: playing wedding and playing funeral (Luke 7:32). When my grandchildren visit, they continually make up games where they imitate the workers in a variety of occupations and home life. They act out the situations of life in a kind of rehearsal that prepares them for real life. Practice makes perfect.
Jesus told the parable to show the obstinate orientation of many people to be unhappy with any game other than the one they want to play. The people complained because John the Baptist refused to eat very much, and they complained because Jesus came happily eating with sinners. Jesus saw a kind of tragic humor reflected by how unhappy children are when no one will play the game they choose to play. This lack of cooperation only leads to a lack of occupation with any fun at all. The refusal to play is a lonely way to go about living and the smell of selfishness is like burning sulfur or bitter sewer, it irritates the nostrils of everyone around you. A sledgehammer mentality leads up a creek from a sewer fed ditch.
“Be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2 NASB).