People Are Talking About Jesus Christ (Superstar) and Some Christians Are Mad
Once again, Christians have an opportunity to join in on a conversation about Jesus. The Easter live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar has received rave reviews and the audience was wowed by good production, well done music, and one telling of the last week of Jesus’ life.
But an article in the Washington Post (to see the article click here), notes the number of people who are in some way not happy with the musical or in some cases, were even offended. They are upset that Judas seems more complex and not simply serves as a flat villain. They are upset at the allusions to some possible romantic feelings between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. They are angry that the story ends with the crucifixion and doesn’t include the resurrection. The list goes on.
These same criticisms were unleashed when the musical first came out in the early 70s. Then, in a time where religion was even more staid, outcries against Jesus Christ Superstar were loud and virulent. It was pure heresy. A friend of mine shared a story about his then future wife, the organist at their church, playing “Look at All My Trials and Tribulations,” as music during communion in church one Sunday. Hoping to keep church connected, she thought it was an appropriate choice. She was surprised when the backlash came about how inappropriate such a song was for church!
So here are my suggestions:
- First, relax Christians! The musical has been around for almost a half century. There wasn’t anything super new in this. The production was fresh, well done and current. But the story line and the songs were now in the modern classics category. Whatever outrage you feel the chance to share, you probably have nothing new to say that wasn’t already said forty years ago.
- Second, no matter how much Christians got caught up in the attention Judas got, no one (NO ONE!) at the end of the program was watching the crucifixion of Jesus and the cross drifting back into the light and thinking about Judas. Reports are that the live theater crowd was watching in stunned silence. And all eyes were where? On Jesus! That's a fantastic outcome!
- Third, in the context of Easter, in a culture that still has plenty of residual awareness about some Christian themes, the musical doesn’t function in a vacuum. Most people know that the story continues with Jesus being raised from the dead. And since the musical leaves Jesus as the key, likable figure, people want him to make it.
And that leads to the bottom line – any positive discussions in our society about who Jesus was and is are a great chance for the church to be the church. Well-done presentations like Jesus Christ Superstar offer the church a chance to join a conversation that has gone public and has people looking at Jesus and saying, “Wow!” Rather than whining (I am tired of whiny church-speak), the church should join the conversation, share more about the story, and take advantage of this brief window of interest to share the good news in whatever ways make sense. For a few days this week, in part because of a musical, people are actually talking about Jesus!