The Poetic Jesus

He's the poet, and we're the poems.

The Incarnate Lord (5)

“Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me.”
Matthew 26.10

Made for beauty
Human beings are made for beauty. God put beautiful trees in the garden of Eden, because He understands that we need beauty to thrive (Gen. 2.9). The beauty of created things and beautiful culture can help us to consider our Lord Jesus Christ and the beauty of His glory. Jesus Himself appreciated beauty, as we see in the verse that begins this installment. The word translated by NKJV as “good” (καλὸν, kalon) can mean, at the same time, “beautiful.” What all the other people in that room saw as a frivolous, wasteful gesture, Jesus saw as “a beautiful work” which had been done to glorify Him.

Jesus had an eye for beauty. He saw things in ways others did not. He contemplated ordinary, everyday objects with an eye to discerning in them something of the beauty of God and His glory. I suspect that Jesus appreciated beauty so keenly because He saw in everything around Him some witness to or reflection of Himself and His mission.

Artists, composers, and especially poets have a knack for seeing the beauty in everyday objects and situations. In that respect, Jesus is the supreme Poet, for He saw a witness to Himself and His Kingdom in all kinds of created things, not just in fragrant oils. And He used poetic forms – parables, stories, metaphors, and surprise – to share His observations with others and make them stick in their souls.

The mind of the Poet
Let’s consider Jesus in just two familiar situations, where He saw things others did not, and when He used poetic means to communicate His insights. Let’s look first at the story of Jesus and the Roman coin (Matt. 22.15-21).

Jesus’ adversaries were trying to hoist Him on His own petard. They believed that, if they could get Him to say something subversive about Rome and its government, then the Romans would take it from there, and they would be rid of this pesky prophet.

So they asked the question about the lawfulness of Jews paying taxes to Caesar. You can almost see the twinkle in Jesus’ eye as He says, “Show Me the tax money.” Jesus held the coin up for all to see. Of course, they all knew what was on the coin, the image of Caesar. Jesus invited those who were present to make their own association. The poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant – success in circuit lies…” Jesus knew this poetic practice well as He asked the people about the image stamped on the coin. We can almost hear the people in unison saying, “Caesar’s.”

Then, with the mind of a poet, Jesus drew His hearers into the metaphor He was constructing for them: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” Well, there you have it. Jesus thinks we should pay taxes to Caesar. After all, we do use his coins, no?

Then the poetic floor drops out from under them, “…and to God the things that are God’s.”  Whoa! Suddenly the whole idea of “image” took on a new meaning. That coin was made in Caesar’s image, but we are made in God’s image! Surely we owe more to God than just a few taxes here and there. “When they had heard these words, they marveled…” Yeah, I bet they did.

See the face of Jesus as He does this. I imagine that tt isn’t stern and threatening. His face is radiant, His eyes are bright and wide open, and He has a little smile slowly growing across His face and increasing as He sees the faces of others “getting it.”

Fast forward to Luke 24. Jesus engages two disciples on the Emmaus Road. His identity is concealed from them as He engages them about recent events. After listening to their lamentable tale, Jesus says to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” Then, having gotten their attention, “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (vv. 25-27).

As if they were listening to a master poet weave a remarkable tale in a few brief words, the two disciples felt their hearts growing warm and receptive. But they didn’t know why. Not until that is, Jesus broke the bread for them at the table, and they saw the nail prints in His hands (vv. 28-32). Like a great sonneteer, who poses a situation or sets up a story in twelve carefully-crafted lines of verse, then pops open the resolution in a final couplet, Jesus teaching on that dusty road set these disciples up for the happiest surprise of their lives. Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus” captures the moment when the Master Poet springs the surprise on the enthralled disciples. So thrilled were they, that they went all the way back to Jerusalem to share their poetic experience with the other disciples.

And what was Jesus like as He spoke with them, as He made point after point about Himself from all throughout the Word of God, and as He opened their eyes in that last bread-breaking couplet? Eager, earnest, tender, clear, patient, and thorough, setting all the tumblers of their souls in place for the insertion and turn of the Key: Jesus Himself.

Can you see the beauty of Jesus as He saw the potential beauty in these two situations? And as He taught and explained and created heightened awareness and finally finished His “poems”? The experience of beauty creates wonder, marveling, insight, and a sense of “Aha!” Jesus saw it well before everyone else, and He helps us to see the beauty in everything, as everything points to the beauty that is in Him.

The drawing power of beauty

We know that Jesus is the Master Poet, because He has made us His “poems”, as Paul put it in Ephesians 2.10 (the Greek word for “workmanship” is ποίημα, poiema). When we read a great poem, or see or hear something beautiful, we are drawn to it. We want to participate in that beauty, to become one with it, to be beautiful like it. Jesus used His words to present His truth in beautiful and wondrous ways, like a poet: seeds like the Kingdom; a widow’s mite greater than the greatest treasures, lilies, birds, barns, farmers, and more – all common images fraught with divine beauty, which by drawing that beauty out, like a skilled poet, Jesus reveals His own beauty, to draw us closer to Him.

As John Owen put it, “When the soul hath a view by faith (which nothing else can give it) of the goodness of God as manifested in Christ—that is, of the essential excellencies of his nature as exerting themselves—[the soul] reacheth after him with its most earnest embraces, and is restless until it comes unto perfect fruition.”

See the beauty of Jesus in His poetry of beauty, and let it warm your heart to the point of marveling, as you consider Him in all His radiance and glory.

For reflection
1. How was Jesus’ approach to teaching like that of a great poet?

2. What does great poetry suggest about beauty? Can you think of a favorite hymn that highlights the beauty of Jesus?

3. How does the poetry of the psalms lead us to see Jesus as the Master Poet? How do they help us in considering Him?

Next steps – Preparation: Sing the hymn, “Fairest Lord Jesus”, throughout this day, and see the beauty of Jesus in it.

T. M. Moore

You can also now listen, each Lord’s Day, to a weekly summary of our daily Scriptorium study, which is presently working through the book of Jeremiah. Click here for last week’s summary of Jeremiah 24 and 25.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore