Jesus the Poet

The Gospel of John is the current focus of my preaching. I am excited, challenged and transformed by the Word of God encountered in John. The powerful language, metaphors and word images stir new thoughts and perspectives. I cannot read John passively; I am called into an encounter with Jesus.

From the start, John uses poetic symbols and metaphors to describe Jesus. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Marcus Borg, a New Testament scholar, writes,

John’s use of symbolic language is extraordinarily powerful. His images are often “archetypal” (literally, imprinted in human psyches from the beginning). They flow out of the depths of human experience and longing. We see this with great clarity in the “I am” statements that he attributes to Jesus:

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). The archetypal image is darkness and light and it close relative blindness and seeing. The image is not only in John’s prologue, but also in the story of Nicodemus (John 3), who comes to Jesus “by night” —he is still in the dark. In John 9, the overcoming of blindness and Jesus as the “light of the world” are juxtaposed. (Marcus Borg, Evolution of the Word, p. 305-306)

John’s use of metaphor can often be confusing and unsettling—that is his intention. Take the story of Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus is a religious leader, a Pharisee, who comes to talk with Jesus by night. He starts with a clear declaration of respect, “Rabbi, we know that you are teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Nicodemus calls Jesus Rabbi—teacher—and Nic appear ready to learn.

But Jesus’ use of language seems only to confuse Nic. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (or again)” Nic does not catch the true impact of Jesus. He is not simply a teacher who give more data, but rather God who give birth to a new cosmos. Nic responds, “How does someone climb back up into his mom’s uterus?”

Nic comes to Jesus like an engineer or scientist, wanting the new set of blueprints for remodeling one’s life. Jesus responds like a fiery poet, burning down Nic’s safe path to religious enlightenment with the declaration that one needs a fresh birth (implying the death of the old and a new birth with a new perspective?). Like a poet Jesus uses dramatic graphic language: birth from above, born of water and Spirit, the wind blows where it will. All this leaves Nic confused, questioning, wondering, “How can these things be?”

As a reader, I am often like Nic, wrestling with questions and concepts. I need to die to my simple approach that wants to fit Jesus into my life. Rather Jesus comes to “break open” my religious perspective and start a new creation in my life. The new creation is not always clear, but I know that staying close to the poet Jesus, I will find the way, the truth and life.

Lord Jesus, speak your word of new birth for me today.

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