We live in an upside down world where things are not what they seem. Boiling water actually freezes faster than room temperature water, something known as the Mpemba effect. The earth is the one moving – at a pretty good clip, in fact – not the sun, although we continue to talk about the sun’s “rising” and “setting.” Einstein and his quantum colleagues taught us that that space and time aren’t as intractable as we once assumed and that electrons can be both particles and waves. I’m not smart enough to understand most of that, but it’s clear that a big part of science over the last century has involved explaining how the universe is put together by a hot mess of upside down logic.
It’s not just in the realm of science that we find this to be true. Research has proven that the least effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to go on a diet. Also, it stands to reason that communication would rely primarily on language, but non-verbal signals communicate more than words do. And although I still believe I would be an exception to this rule, people who win large amounts of money report being less happy than those in lower tax brackets, and the most productive people work less and sleep more than their workaholic counterparts.
What’s with all this backwards logic? Why are things not only just “not what they seem” but actually the polar opposite of what we would ordinarily believe to be true? That’s another one I’m not smart enough to explain.
Between last week’s Gospel reading and the one we’ll hear this Sunday, we have Jesus’ entire message in Cliff Notes form. And all of it is upside down. We would expect people who are poor, persecuted, and in mourning to be anything but joyful, but Jesus tells us in last week’s Gospel that these are the very folks who are “blessed.” We might think a logical response to an attack would be to fight back, and the last thing we’d want to do to someone who stole from us would be to give that person even more. But in this week’s Gospel, that’s precisely what Jesus tells us to do repeatedly. In many ways, understanding the backwards logic of the “good news” of Jesus is a whole lot harder than comprehending quantum physics.
A college professor of mine used to say all the time, “Test it against your own experience.” I can’t explain everything that seems upside down to me, but I can test the Gospel against my own experience to see if it rings true. And darned if Jesus wasn’t right. When I have harbored resentment, I’ve made myself miserable, but when I’ve been truly able to forgive, I have experienced a sense of release and freedom that brought me something close to joy. When I have given more of my time or resources that I thought necessary, I ended up feeling more a sense of satisfaction, not depletion. None of this happened right away, of course. But over time, my experience has taught me that Jesus got it right.
I don’t know why some of life’s eternal truths are the opposite of what one would ordinarily presume to be the case. I don’t understand the backwards logic behind the universe, both the big one that is about 93 billion light years in diameter and the little one made of up my one simple life. But I don’t need to. When I test it against my own experience, I know that Jesus had it all figured out.
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry