In the early days of my reading of Yeshua, when my context was secular, I quickly developed the idea that Yeshua was a poet. I’m no great expert on poetic literature, but I’m no slouch either. Although I was in engineering school at the time (Georgia Tech), I was minoring in literature (yes, you can do that at an engineering school).
Poetry is artistry with words, creative use and abuse of grammar, playing with sound and rhythm and meaning.
Yeshua certainly does this. “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” There is irony, Caesar who affects an image of power demands coinage. God, whose majesty is doubted by Rome, demands life and soul. A mere trinket, a coin, will satisfy almighty Caesar, but how can we render what God demands?
He has many poetic images. Grass is lovelier than Solomon in his finest. A widow’s tiny offering is greater than the large donations of the wealthy. Angels carry Lazarus to a place of rest. True faith is childlike. God does not forget a sparrow. A good tree bears fruit. Weeds hide in the wheat. Two will walk together and one will be taken. The appearance of the Son of Man will be like lightning. A tax collector is justified by God. Let the hearer understand. A hen gathers her chicks. Jerusalem did not know the time of her judgment. Blessed are those working when the Master visits.
It is a fact that the words of Yeshua are not simple. His message takes hearing with understanding. Behind simple similes lie convoluted conundrums.
The kingdom is among you, at hand, present, standing before you. But there is delay. And there will be mourners. And while waiting for the kingdom you will be thrown out of synagogues. And you will long to see one of those days of the Son of Man. But pray and do not give up. May God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Yet the blind see, the lame walk, and the poor have good news preached to them.
And because Yeshua’s words are difficult, we hear so many theories: “He was a failed prophet who expected the ultimate time to come either in his life or at his death. Two thousand years of continued suffering show his vision to be a failure.” Or others will say: “The kingdom is here and Yeshua brought it. The reign is in heaven and not on earth. Believe and you will see it.” Tons more theories abound: Yeshua the philosopher-cynic, Yeshua the misunderstood Jew, Yeshua the idealist, Yeshua the permissive lord, and so on.
After many years of theology, biblical studies, close readings, and historical study, I still think Yeshua is a poet, but I might refine my category a bit. He is a poet of a certain type, belonging to certain traditions.
Yeshua’s words are the words of a Sage and a Prophet. The sages who produced the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Bible spoke in deceptively simple words with an ironic bite. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible challenged with a pure vision of coming justice whose future reality informs the present.
And Yeshua’s words are more than those of a Sage or Prophet. Unlike sages and prophets, Yeshua is also the reality itself and not just the messenger. Blessed are those who take no offense at me. The Son of Man is coming on the clouds of heaven. You will see me at the right hand of power. As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me. He who obeys my words builds his house on the rock. The servant is not greater than the master. I come not to be served, but to serve and give my life a ransom. I will say to those, “I never knew you.” My yoke is easy and my burden light. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I will come again and I will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.