They said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (Jn. 12:21)
Because comic books never interested me very much as a kid, it was not until the sit-com Seinfeld was on TV that I became familiar with Bizaro. Bizaro, Jerry Seinfeld, explains in a famous episode, is “Superman’s exact opposite, who lives in a backwards, bizaro world. Up is down. Down is up. He says ‘Hello’ when he leaves, ‘Good bye’ when he arrives.”
If you remember the Seinfeld episode, the matter of Bizaro Superman comes up because Jerry’s friend Elaine has met a new friend very much like Jerry, except, as she explains to Jerry, that he is not so self-absorbed, not so distracted by the minutiae of unimportant things. “He is reliable. He is considerate,” Elaine says to Jerry, “He’s like your exact opposite.” Thus begins Elaine’s flirtation with a new group of three friends who are the kind, thoughtful, bookish counterparts to Jerry, George, and Kramer, who are goofy, self-centered, and never read anything but comic books. Her new friends are the sort of bright doppelgangers of the flawed, quirky, moody trio of the three old friends we regular watchers know so well.
As the episode goes on, Elaine finds herself torn between her two sets of friends – which is really just an expression of being torn between her kinder, better self and her selfish, worse self. And in the end, she simply doesn’t fit in with the bizaro world of the well-read version, considerate of Jerry, et al., and she ends up back where she began with Jerry, George and Kramer.
Sometimes the world we read about in the Gospels seems like a bizaro world – a world almost opposite to the world we live in, as though up is down, and down is up. Take, for instance, the little episode we hear about in John’s Gospel today. Jesus is in Jerusalem, he has already been greeted by the palm-waving throngs. And along come some men who John calls “Greeks.” We could talk about whether they are Greek-speaking Jews, or Gentiles who are trying to find favor with the God of the Jewish Temple, or whatever – but for our purposes this morning, that hardly matters. That the seekers are identified as somehow different and distinct is not what makes them bizaro to my ears.
Here’s what makes them bizaro – and maybe you will think so too – these guys stroll up to Phillip, and they blurt out this demand to him; they say: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
I am not sure I have ever heard anyone say anything like that to me in my life – and I am in the Jesus business. But, no, in the world I live in, most people do not come looking for Jesus. Oddly, this is often as true within the church as without: people simply are not looking for Jesus; and they most assuredly are not asking for him if they can’t find him. I am not trying to be sarcastic or funny here; I am trying to be honest. The church has not gotten good at closing its buildings down and selling its real estate because of all the people we encounter who are looking for Jesus, or who come asking us to show him to them. The empty pews I see from here are not a reflection of the hordes who are looking for Jesus – at least not on this block of Locust Street. And we are a healthy, happy, growing parish! But still there is plenty of room for those who might see Jesus, but who do not seem to be looking for him!
I find it bizarre – maybe even bizaro – to think about such an encounter: that someone could walk up to me or to you and just say to us, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” I hardly know how I’d reply! It’s almost like the exact opposite of the world I live in. Because in the world I live in even those of us who believe in and love Jesus are often more than a little careful not to speak of him out loud, and certainly we don’t want to be caught looking for him in the challenges, twists, and turns of life (even if privately we think about it). We live in a world that has decided you should keep your faith to yourself, and in which it would probably be embarrassing to be seen to be looking for Jesus. Rare, it seems, is the day that someone earnestly approaches the church with this searching question on his or her lips: “I wish to see Jesus.” So rare, that when I hear it, it seems like a bizaro world.
On reflection, the concept of a bizaro world seems right at home in the Gospel of Jesus Christ – where things are often almost a mirror-image of the world we live in; where up is down, down is up, etc.
It was a bizaro idea of God’s to send his Son into the world as a weakling, a child, a harmless, unarmed teacher.
It was a bizaro world that Mary sang about – where the humble are exalted, and the rich are sent empty away.
It was a bizaro world that Jesus taught about on the mountain when he promised that the meek would inherit the earth and the peacemakers would be blessed.
It was a bizaro world Jesus was talking about when he told his followers that those who want to gain their lives must lose them, and those who lose their lives for his sake will gain eternal life.
It was a bizaro world at the Cross and at the Tomb – where death seemed to be having its say, as it always does, but where actually the covenant of new life was being enacted.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is bizaro news – the revelation that in Christ things are almost exactly the opposite of what they seem: the unjust, greedy, violent ways of this world will not prevail; the poor and the down-trodden will not be crushed; our worst selves need not always trump our better selves; truth will not always be buried beneath piles of spin; the broken, bruised, and battered can be healed; the shadow of death will not obliterate the light of life!
Why is it that outside these walls we so seldom speak of these things? Why is it so difficult to imagine anyone asking to be shown the source of this hope? Why do I find it bizaro to think of someone asking to see Jesus?
Well, I’m not at all sure there is any explanation of the bizaro. But it can be helpful to become aware of the bizaro world. And the real question is whether the bizaro world is a backwards reflection of the world we live in, or if it is the world we are actually living in. Which is backwards, wrong, bizarre?
Part of what was so appealing about season after season of Seinfeld was that as goofy, quirky, and self-centered as Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer were, we could always see at least a little of ourselves in them. And if there was a defining characteristic of Jerry and his friends, it was that they were self-absorbed and selfish, ill-attuned to the needs or concerns of others around them, even those they loved the most. And the thought that the world could be kind, considerate, selfless, and giving – well this was a bizaro idea to them: it was the shadow side of their own selfishness.
At the end of the episode, Elaine walks into the neat and tidy apartment of the bizaro version of Jerry, and discovers it to be the mirror image of Jerry’s place. She is astounded at how familiar yet different it all is. She opens the fridge, takes out a jar of olives and begins nibbling on them. Bizaro Jerry looks over and asks, “Hey, what are you doing?”
“Eating olives,” Elaine says.
“Have you ever heard of asking?” comes, what is to her, the bizaro response. For, she had indeed never thought of asking.
Within a few moments she has realized how poorly she fits in to this kind, polite, considerate, bizaro world, and she is on the way out the door to return to Jerry and the guys.
Daily, I am aware of how bizarre, greedy, frightening, difficult, dangerous, and self-centered the world we live in has become. Perhaps it has always been this way, I don’t know; but it seems to be getting worse to me.
I have begun to suspect that this world we live in is actually the bizaro version of what God intends for us: a peaceful, fruitful, happy existence that is full of joy.
But we have become confused about what is reality and what is bizaro.
Jesus comes into the world to show us what a bizaro world it has become, and to teach us that love and kindness are what God created us for – not the reverse image of his creation.
I hear people yearning for a world that is better than the one we live in. I know people who are working hard for just such a world. But there are not enough of us yet, not enough who want to leave the bizaro world behind and discover again the true life for which God made us – the life of love and joy and peace.
Sometimes I want to scream about it, since I believe that Jesus is the Way we will get there, the Truth we are looking for, and the Life we suspect we have already lost. I want people to meet Jesus, and I want to meet him again and again myself in my prayers, in those of you who work and live in his Name, and in the countless ways he shows himself in the world by the power of his Spirit. I want to shout out to this world of ours: “Hey, what are you doing?!?!”
And if the answer should come back to me, “Oh, just looking for Truth, Peace, and Love,” then I want to be ready to reply:
“Have you ever thought of asking?”
Let’s all think of asking, over and over again: “We wish to see Jesus!”
And when the bizaro day comes that someone asks that very thing of each of us, let us rejoice, and show them the Way!
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
22 March 2015
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia