Sliding in Sideways

Jeff Munroe

Read: Matthew 5:1-11

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying . . . (v. 2 KJV)

In a delightful free verse poem about talking to kindergartners, Christian writer Brian Doyle answers questions such as “is that your real nose?” and “can you write a book / About a ruffed grouse, please?” and then “what do poems do?” While answering that question he notes that poems are “built to slide into you sideways” (How the Light Gets In, p. 8).

Jesus’ words here slide into us sideways. Those who seem unfavored—the poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, and the persecuted—are revealed to be blessed. Things are different than they appear on the surface. “Beatitudes” were a well-known literary form in the time of Jesus, similar to proverbs. But here Jesus is taking the familiar and using it to stand things on their head.

Notably, Jesus doesn’t talk about what many of us expect him to talk about: sin and salvation. Jesus was not a contemporary gospel preacher; he was a first-century Jewish rabbi. His message of the kingdom of heaven (vv. 3, 10) includes personal salvation but is much larger than that. He returns to the theme of the kingdom of heaven throughout the Sermon on the Mount and over and over in his parables, often using poetic language and imagery that slides into us sideways. The mystery of his words adds to their intrigue, and they are an inexhaustible mine in which people have dug for over two thousand years. —Jeff Munroe

As you pray, ask that all your senses may help you perceive the wonders of the mysteries Jesus proclaimed.