A Letter to the Editor: Jesus was no 'Celebrity'
To the Editor:
I agree with two major points made by Jesus Christ Superstar. First, Jesus lived in Israel under Roman occupation. His life is a historical reality.
Second, Jesus deserves no respect from us if he was a liar or a lunatic. If Jesus was who Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice made him out to be in their rock opera, then we should abandon the church and forget about Jesus.
But Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice weren't content to forget about Jesus. They wrote an entire rock opera about him. They spent time and talent painting a picture of a man they present as a con artist or a pathetic loser. That tells me there is more going on in Superstar than skepticism. It lets me know they had an axe to grind.
I just finished reading the full text of the song lyrics and dialogue. I got hit with breath-takingly irreverent stuff I dare not repeat. Instead of slapping you in the face by quoting the playwrights' exact words, I'll deal with a few over-arching concepts.
Though the play is about a real man from history, Superstar re-writes history and portrays Jesus as wanting to achieve stardom. Indeed, the very reason the Jesus character gets himself crucified is so that he'll become more famous. He's willing to be a martyr because he aims to make a big splash and go down in flames.
The truth is, Satan faced Jesus with the temptation to do something spectacular - to jump off the pinnacle of the temple and amaze everybody by not getting killed or even hurt. But Jesus resisted Satan's temptation. Stunts and special effects to impress people would have been easy for Jesus to pull off. And all of us need to be impressed with Jesus' power over the forces and laws of nature. Yet He refrained from doing spectacular feats only to win admiration from men. Jesus didn't come to Earth to be a stunt man. Every miracle He performed helped someone else.
His miracles weren't the tricks of a magician putting on a show. He delivered desperate people from real disabilities and disease and demons. Before Jesus raised Jairus' dead daughter back to life, He did not permit the large multitude to follow Him; at Jairus' house, He put all the mourners outside; He went to the girl's bedside with only her father and mother and only three of His disciples. Is that the way someone behaves if he is seeking the limelight?
Consider a few more scenes from the Gospel of Mark. When a deaf man with a severe speech impediment was brought to Jesus for healing, Jesus "took him aside from the multitude by himself" to heal him. Again, when a blind man's friends brought him to Jesus, He led "the blind man by the hand [and] brought him out of the village" before laying His hands upon his eyes.
Jesus declined to perform any sign or miracle at all for the argumentative Pharisees who "came out . . . seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test him." And Jesus ordered demons to be silent when they, through the person they possessed, cried out and revealed Jesus' full identity.
Jesus is not the only one slandered in this play. So is Mary Magdalene. Putting words in her mouth that she "had so many men before," implying that she was a prostitute, has no basis in the Bible or other records of history. All we're told about Mary's past is that she was possessed by seven evil spirits. Jesus cast them out of her. If he had been sexually intimate with her, he would have been incapable of delivering her from demonic oppression, but would himself have become oppressed by the same evil spirits.
Jesus Christ Superstar piles on more of the insults, mockery, and word-twisting that Jesus endured when He stood before the chief priests and legal experts in a kangaroo court.
Mr. Whitten is an attorney who was raised in Greenwood and now lives in Jackson, Mississippi.