THE POISE OF JESUS
"No man after that durst ask him any question."
- Mark xii :34.
By the poise of Jesus I mean the fine balance of his faculties, the equilibrium of his nature. Every boy knows what it is to balance a cane on his hand, or to poise a cane by resting one end of it on the tip of his finger. After a little practice it is possible for him to hold the cane absolutely erect. This equilibrium is a state of rest brought about by the counteraction of two or more opposing forces. just so a man can poise himself in the midst of the storms of this boisterous world. This equilibrium is due first of all to a certain balance of faculty. How rarely do we find well-balanced men! The average man is one-sided, unsymmetrical, unevenly developed. When a man is unsymmetrical in his body, we pity him. If one arm is much longer than the other arm, or one leg is much shorter than the other leg, or one ear is much larger than the other ear, we say he is deformed, and his deformity calls forth our pity.
But this lack of symmetrical development in the body is nothing compared with the lack of symmetry in the mind. It is a rare thing to find a man or a woman deformed in his body; it is a rare thing not to find a man deformed in his spirit. We are all overdeveloped on one side of our nature and underdeveloped on the other. It seems to, be well nigh impossible to keep our faculties in even balance. If we are strong in certain characteristics, we are well nigh certain to be weak in the opposite characteristics. If we are enthusiastic, tremendously enthusiastic, our enthusiasm pushes ahead until it becomes fanaticism. If we are emotional, exceedingly emotional, our emotion degenerates into hysterics. If we are imaginative, very imaginative, unless we are on our guard we become flighty and visionary. If we are practical, very levelheaded, we are always in danger of becoming prosaic and dull. If we have courage in great abundance, our courage passes readily into recklessness. If we are prudent, our prudence is always on the point of degenerating into cowardice. If we are original and unique our uniqueness is always in danger of passing into eccentricity. If we are sympathetic, our sympathy is likely to run into sentimentalism. If we are pious, our piety has a tendency to become sanctimoniousness. If we are religious, our religion tends to slip into superstition. Every virtue when pushed beyond its appointed limit becomes a vice, and every grace when overdeveloped becomes a defect and disfiguration. Look around upon the men and women that you know, and in how many of them can you say that their disposition is finely balanced ? "Oh, if he did not have so much of that!" "Oh, if he only had a little more of this!" That is what we always feel when the characters of men pass before us for judgment. "He would be an ideal man – but..." "She would be a queen among women – but ..." There is always just a little something lacking to make the character what it ought to be.
But when we come to Jesus we find ourselves in the presence of a man without a flaw. He was enthusiastic, blazing with enthusiasm, but he never became fanatical. He was emotional, men could feel the throbbing of his heart, but he never became hysterical. He was imaginative, full of poetry and music, seeing pictures everywhere, throwing upper. everything he touched a light that never was on land or sea, the inspiration and the poet’s dream – but he was never flighty. He was practical, hardheaded, matter of fact, but he was never prosaic, never dull. His life always had in it the glamour of romance. He was courageous but never reckless, prudent but never a coward, unique but not eccentric, sympathetic but never sentimental. Great streams of sympathy flowed from his tender heart toward those who needed sympathy, but at the same time streams of lava flowed from the same heart to scorch and overwhelm the workers of iniquity. He was pious, but there is not a trace about him of sanctimoniousness. All the oily disgusting piety that has been caricatured in the books is the product of undeveloped hearts and minds far removed from the piety of his robust soul. He was religious, the most profoundly religious man that ever turned his face toward God, but never once did he slip into superstition. And because he is so well rounded and on every side so complete, men have never known where to class him. Of what temperament was he? It is impossible to say. Every man on coming to him finds in him what he wants. He had in him all the virtues, and not one of them was overgrown. He exhibited all the graces, and every one of them was in perfect bloom. He stands in history as the one man beautiful, symmetrical, absolutely perfect.
Out of this balance of his powers comes his unrivaled poise in conduct. He lived always in a whirlwind, – men bent like reeds around him, – he never so much as wavered. Men laid their traps and tried to catch him, he walked bravely in the midst of them and never was entrapped. The intellectual athletes of his time tried to trip him they never did. His enemies did their best to upset him – they never could. They flung their lassos at his head – they never got a lasso round his neck. They dug their pits – he never tumbled into them. Wherever he went he was surrounded by enemies waiting to catch him in his talk – they never caught him. They asked him all sorts of questions, expecting that by his answers he would incriminate himself – he never did. They brought out to him one dilemma after another, saying we will catch him on one horn or the other – but he escaped them every Lime. After they had done their best they retired vanquished from the field. He remained undisputed conqueror.
This wonderful poise came out in the temple when he was only a boy of twelve. The old men in the midst of whom he sat were astounded at his answers. At the beginning of his public career he heard the seductive voices sounding in his ears. Time and again the evil one came to him with a new allurement, but every time he hurled the tempter back by quoting just the passage of Scripture which that temptation needed. Men tried to convict him of breaking the law in regard to the Sabbath day, but instantly he proved from Scripture and from reason that what he did was right. Men interrupted him in the midst of his preaching, but he was never disconcerted. "Make my brother," cried a man, "divide the inheritance with me." And quick as a flash the answer came: "Who made me a ruler over you? Let me tell you and everybody else to beware of covetousness." When Peter at Philippi began to protest against his going to Jerusalem where he would be killed, Jesus said, "Get thee behind me, Satan." He had heard that voice before. He recognized it even on the lips of his friend. It is one of the devil’s last resources to speak through the mouth of a friend. Such a trick cannot deceive Jesus.
On the last Tuesday of his life they determined to undo him. All the different parties united their forces and put their heads together and concocted schemes by means of which this young prophet should be brought to prison. The Pharisees go to him with this question: "Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar?" It was an insidious question. If he said "yes," then that would make him hateful to every patriotic Jew, for no Jew who had a patriotic heart believed it was right to pay Jewish money into a Gentile treasury. If on the other hand he said "no," then he proved himself to be a traitor to Rome, and the Roman officials could immediately pounce down on him. What will he do? Holding a piece of money in his hands he says, "Whose superscription is this?" And when they say "Caesar’s," he hands the money back to them, saying, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s." The Pharisees were conceited people, but after that they durst ask him no more questions. There was a scribe who thought he would try his hand. "What is the great commandment of the law?" he said, to which Jesus replied, "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself." "But who is my neighbor?" And then Jesus told him about the priest and the Levite and the Samaritan who saw the man by the wayside. After he had told the story he thrust this question into the man’s heart: "-Which one of the three was neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" After that the scribes asked him no more questions. The time comes when he is seized and carried before Caiaphas, and the marvelous poise of the prophet disconcerts and dumfounds the high priest. Unable to do anything with him he sends him to Pilate. Pilate questions him and becomes afraid of him. What a picture! The prophet of Galilee erect, calm, immovable, saying, "To this purpose was I born, and for this end came I into the world, to bear witness to the truth." See Pilate cringing, cowering, shuffling, washing his hands and saying he does not propose to have anything to do with such a man. Jesus has poise, and Pilate, representative of the Eternal City, servant of an empire of blood and iron – has no poise at all. It is an interesting fact that notwithstanding Jesus was speaking constantly in public for three years, not one of his enemies was able to catch him in his speech, and when at last they convicted him they had to do it on a trumped-up lie.
This also is noteworthy that not one of the enemies of Jesus was able by unfairness or falsehood or hatred to push Jesus into a hasty word or an unrighteous mood. Most men are so poorly balanced you can push them with very little pressure into an unmanly speech, into an unchristian disposition. Jesus was so firmly poised that under the pressure of the most venomous vituperation that has ever been hurled against a man, he stood erect, unmoved, and unmovable. His poise was divine.
Because he is so well balanced and so finely poised, each succeeding generation comes back to him for inspiration. Is it not remarkable that the men of the first century thought they saw in him the ideal figure of what a man should be, and that men in the fourth century looking at him felt the same, and that men in the tenth century looking at him felt the same, and that men in the sixteenth century looking at him agreed with all the centuries that went before, and that men in the twentieth century looking at him feel that in him they find a perfect pattern? Men of intellect who live the intellectual life look to him for guidance and instruction, men of emotion who desire to replenish the springs of feeling look to him for inspiration, men of high aspirations who desire to lift the soul sit humbly at his feet confessing that he has the words of life. And now that new and complicated problems have arisen in commercial life, and industrial life, and social life, men are turning wistfully toward him, feeling that he has the key which will unlock all the doors, that he knows the secret of a complete and perfect life. There is a grace about him which does not fade, there is a sanity about him which compels respect, there is a charm about him which woos and wins the heart, and we like preceding generations fall down before him acknowledging that his character is without a flaw and that his life is without a blemish.