On Grief and A Flute Player
Matt. 9:23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion,
Matt. 9:24 he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him.
Matt. 9:25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up.
Matt. 9:26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.
This is a simple story which we have heard or read numerous times. Jesus heals the little girl and the people rejoice.
But at the moment in which he arrives at the home he encounters the professional mourners. These are the flute players, the ones who have come to make a great noise about the child’s death. It is the flute player that testifies to the fact that she is truly dead. Also, flutes were generally employed when it came to the death of a child. The whole community would therefore understand that it is a child who has died in this home.
The flute player is doing the job they have been paid to do! They are loud and pronouncing a very public grief, in essence, standing in the place of the family who may not be able to express their personal pain. The loud and energetic mourning on display by the professional mourners is probably not a pain that is very deeply felt. The flute player was accustomed to grieving loud and long, as one one who had no hope (but certainly was being paid). It’s important to remember that the loudest grief is not always the deepest. A shallow river produces much more sound than one which runs deep.
The flute player played the role of assisting the family and community in their grieving but with the arrival of the Messiah, all of that changed.
The role of the flute player stopped me a bit in my tracks for I was a flute player when I was in school. I enjoyed playing in the band, playing my flute, and hanging out with my friends. We were not called upon to be mourners, but instead had the joy of playing the fun high notes that brought a bit of a twist to the music. Sometimes we played high above the melody in notes which filled the spectrum of the music with joy and anticipation. This was fun!
But being a flute player in Jesus’ day — in this role — was not fun. And somehow I think that we might be able to find ourselves in the place of the flute player that day. We continue to live in a world that is punctuated by pain and often we don’t know what we are to do about it. We respond in the way in which we feel comfortable and somehow we pull out our metaphorical flute and begin to make noise.
Someone is hurt and not knowing how to respond we grab our personal instrument — voice, pen, keyboard — and we make noise! Somehow we think that the noise is helpful, just as the flute player. But the music of the flute was really a sign of hopelessness. There was no hope, so the only option was to grieve loud and long.
The grief of the professional mourners did not match that of the parents. It’s that awkward moment when someone says to a devastated parent, “Oh, I know just how you feel,” and then begins a litany of advice on how to just “get over it.” It’s the flute player that’s playing their tune. It’s loud and yet it is shallow. True grief is so painful and deep that barely a squeak of sound can be heard as the pain wells up from within the very viscera of our being. It feels like a bowling ball has been swallowed and with every breath it lands somewhere squarely in the chest. The sobs are muffled and stifled and yet there is the chatter of the flute player. The noise is but a distraction from the real pain and eventually you want the flute music to go away.
The flute player became unemployed that day. No one had ever experienced the power of the Messiah, nor the joy that he could bring. While the flute player continued doing the assigned job, Jesus came and ushered in a new kingdom in which the role of the flute player would be forever changed. Instead of pronouncing the hopelessness of death, the flute player could become an instrument of praise for the Messiah, pointing the way into the new kingdom.
These days no one thinks of a flute being an instrument of mourning. Instead it is associated with the marching band of my high school years, playing the joyful and uplifting notes of the orchestration.
Jesus takes our grief and our mourning and fills it with the presence of his kingdom and in that moment everything begins to shift. Nothing is to remain as it has always been, but instead it is to point us to the one who has power to raise the dead. The flute is playing a new and different tune.
Lord, please be with those whoa re suffering grief today. Amen.