There’s a Seinfeld episode entitled The Opposite in which George Costanza determines that every instinct he has ever had and every decision he has ever made have been wrong. Jerry and Elaine encourage him to start doing the exact opposite of what he has always done. “If everything you’ve ever done is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” So, right there in the café, George does the opposite. Instead of ordering tuna on toast, he orders chicken salad on rye. (Jerry notes that salmon is actually the opposite of tuna because salmon swim against the stream and tuna swim with it.) Then George decides to approach an attractive woman which he never does. And, instead of lying and telling her he’s rich and successful, he says, “Hi, I’m George. I’m unemployed and live with my parents.” Doing the opposite becomes George’s new strategy.
When we think of Jesus, we think of the great loving presence he brings to every situation. He includes those who have been excluded. His approach is softer and kinder than that of the Pharisees and scribes. He does a good bit of challenging but it’s done in love, like when he loves the rich man and asks him to rearrange his priorities.
In Matthew’s gospel, the very first public words out of Jesus’ mouth are: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Later he’ll talk about loving God and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. But he starts with repentance.
While we may think of repentance as being sorry or cowering from God’s wrath, the meaning of the word Jesus uses is basically “turn around.” What Jesus asks the world to do first, before he gets to the message of love that we need to receive and give, is to turn around and change perspective. “Look to God rather than just to yourself.” “Change your perspective because God is near, not far away. God is not removed from our lives but right in the midst of our lives.” Usually we think of God as way up high and we take our problems to him or ask him to come down and fix some things we are having a hard time with. Jesus says that God is right in the midst of our lives already. Look for God’s loving presence in the midst of that which troubles you rather than your life as something removed from that holy presence. Repent, change your perspective, look to God instead of yourself, look for God right here and now instead of something we meet later on.
When we fall into strict morality, when we press harder and harder to gain control, when we obsess over how to be successful or pain free, when we pile up more and more material goods and seek more and more adventures which will excite us, we wander further away from God. In Jesus’ time much of the activity intended to bring the people closer to God actually took them further away. That same theme may repeat itself in our lives. We pray for God to fix things so that we can be happy instead of giving thanks to God for what he has given us and what he is doing in our lives. We live trying to do things that might impress God or separate us from the masses instead of truly knowing we are loved and so are the people who trouble us. We try to close out bad stuff in life instead of concentrating on opening our hearts to all the transformation God has in store for us. We hold on too tightly, resisting change, instead of trusting that every change in our lives is designed to bring us into the kingdom more fully.
What’s your basic approach to life, the universe, and God? Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. Try taking a new perspective. Look at things from the opposite direction. Look at the world the way you imagine God looks at it.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.