One of my favorite shows of all time was Seinfeld. Some of the all-time greatest television characters in history were written into that show: George Costanza, Elaine Benis, Cosmo Kramer, and, of course, Jerry. I mean, come on! They were awesome. But, one of my favorite characters on that show was Newman. The funniest thing about Newman wasn’t really anything about the character himself, although he was pretty stinking funny. What was truly hilarious was how much Jerry hated him. As viewers, we never understood why. They never explained the origin of Jerry’s ire. Maybe there was no origin. But, every time Newman walked into the diner or Jerry’s apartment, Jerry would greet him with, “Hello…Newman.” You could hear the contempt dripping from Jerry’s voice, see the disgust on his face, as if someone had just walked in and dropped a dead animal on his sofa. Or, if that image dates me, think about Michael Scott’s reaction to Toby in The Office. Same idea.
The reason why these characters are so funny to us, why Newman and Toby resonate with us, is because there are people in life who, quite frankly, just bug the stink out of us. As you read this, I have now conjured up the image of that unpleasant person in your mind. I’m really sorry about that. But, all of you have him or her: The guy at the office who, when you see coming, causes you to consciously change directions and walk miles out of your way to avoid. Or, the person who causes you to pull out your dead cellphone and start speaking into it as if you are deeply engaged in the most important business call of your life, so you don’t have to talk to him. Or, the gal who prattles on about her kids, and only asks you about your family so that she can “one up” you with her “better” story about her little prodigies and D-1 athletes? Or, the needy gal who always has major drama in her life, and has identified you as her permanent “life garbage landfill,” so that every time she draws near you hear the beeping back-up signal of her emotional dump truck in your mind’s ear as she prepares to drop her load?
Maybe, it’s even more hurtful than that. Maybe, it’s someone who has lied to you over and over again, who has broken your trust or talked about you behind your back 100 times, and yet God seems to keep bringing him back into your life, like Newman into Jerry’s apartment, over and over again. You can’t seem to get rid of him. Maybe you’ve even truly forgiven whatever he’s done in your heart, but you really just don’t want to be around him. Yet, here he is again, in your facemask, forcing you to deal with him.
Elementary, junior high, and high school are full of those people. And, whether it’s a Christian school, or some other school, they are there. They’re also in churches, workplaces, restaurants, ballfields, and anywhere else where two or more are gathered. One of the great lessons in life to teach our children, and to learn ourselves, is how to love Newman.
On the Mount, Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. But love your enemies, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6).
Most of the time, when I think about loving my enemies, I think of ISIS. But, Jesus doesn’t just mean ISIS; He also means Newman. I deal with Newman way more often than ISIS. Newman is in my life all the time. I live with Newman. Newman is an “EGR:” an Extra Grace Required. And, God actually gives us Newman to sand off our rough edges, to teach us how to love-the way he loves. I think that when Jesus told His disciples to forgive people “seventy times seven,” He wasn’t telling them to forgive someone for 490 individual sins or wrongs or transgressions. He was saying that every time the memory of their transgressions come to us, or threaten us with bitterness, we’re to forgive again, to banish the bitterness away, to remember that Christ has forgiven us, and that we forgive much because we have been forgiven much. Or, even to just put up with people who bug us. To love doesn’t necessarily mean to trust. Trust has to be earned, and that’s difficult when trust has been broken again and again. But, love does mean to reach out when what we want to do is run away, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be attracted to that which the world finds repellant. To love Newman.
I’m not advocating putting our kids in physical danger. But, when they are dealing with the Newmans in their lives, we really do them a disservice, we really undermine God’s work in their lives, when we attempt to remove them from that situation. We’re circumventing God’s attempts to teach them important lessons about how to love the unlovable. Instead, we should be coaching them through that, praying them through it, asking the Lord to give them the capacity to love, to expand their little hearts and to break down the bonds of human selfishness, to love with a love that is truly divine. Kingdom love. God love. Because that’s the love they’ll need to make them the eternal beings they are.
Loving Newman also brings into crystal clarity an appreciation and gratefulness for the way God loves. Because, let’s face it. We’re all Newmans. That’s why we needed the Cross.