Were Jesus and John the Baptist like children who played a dance and a dirge? Or was Jesus’ generation one that complained like whining children about the prophets who came to warn it?
In Yohanan the Immerser Demands Repentance John the Baptist challenges his audience, which had gone through all the trouble of going out to the Jordan River to receive his baptism, to accept his even more important advice: to repent of their evil deeds and imitate the faithfulness of Abraham their father.
The standard interpretation of the apostles’ dust-shaking action proposes that Jesus turned the concept of the impurity of Gentile lands against the Jewish inhabitants of cities within the (ritually pure) land of Israel. This interpretation concludes that shaking the dust from their feet dramatically symbolized that Jesus’ apostles would henceforth regard the Jewish inhabitants of a city that had rejected their message as though they were cut off from Israel. It is time for this mistaken interpretation to finally be put to rest.
Although Christians often associate parables exclusively with Jesus, rabbinic literature reveals that this form of expression was well established as an instructional tool among Israel’s first-century teachers. The fact that Jesus used parables to teach is evidence that he was a characteristic sage functioning in a world of sages. Jesus’ efforts were directed toward bringing more and more people under God’s reign—or, in the rabbinic parlance he used, getting them into the “Kingdom of Heaven.” That was what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 9:37-38. Although he used different words, Jesus stressed the same points as the rabbinic saying in m. Avot 2:15: 1) although difficult, the work of the Kingdom of Heaven is all-important, and, 2) God is interested in the urgent completion of the work.