Jesus is just alright
Jesus Christ Superstar
It’s not often possible to go to a Bible-based event and then head directly to the bar to have a conversation about the nature of Jesus Christ. But that’s how Friday night was after I attended Truckee Meadows Community College’s amateur production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar. JCS is loosely based on the gospel stories of Jesus’ last week.
Not that this is a review of the production, but I’d like to recommend it. I’ve seen professional productions of this musical, and this version compared favorably. Three standouts included Andrew Collins as Jesus, Kiet Cao as Judas, and my favorite number of the evening was performed by Adam Semas as King Herod.
So … Jesus. Throughout the production I was struck by how little we actually know about the guy, the historic human being. It’s that lack of concrete knowledge that allows people to do a lot of really evil things in his name. It creates a vacuum that allows us to bring our own associations to our understanding of who and what he was. When you think about it, we don’t even call him by what was likely his real name: Yeshua or something similar.
As a child, I was bothered by the misrepresentations of what he looked like, the famous paintings like Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper where he was a blue-eyed white man. I’ve also seen him represented as black or Hispanic. It’s my belief he looked a lot like anyone else from that area and that time in history. I think if he was tall or remarkable in any way, one of the chroniclers in the Bible would have mentioned it. So he would have been a swarthy man closer to 5 feet tall than 6. What’s it matter what he looked like? Not much. As an adult I can see the famous paintings as symbolic, but as a kid, when the nuns were telling me all kinds of hard-to-believe things about him, and then they’d show me a painting or crucifix that I knew could not be accurate, it undermined everything else they said.
I like to speculate what he would have really been like. Was he a kind of hippie practitioner of peace and love or was he more often the angry man who threw the money changers out of the temple? I often think about that temple outburst when I see the bookstores and retail and coffee shops in churches these days. (John 2:16, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”)
Then there’s that whole “Jesus was a carpenter” thing. In the first chapter of Matthew, his lineage is traced all the way back to Abraham. Solomon and David were his forbearers. I think that made him, not just a metaphoric king, but potentially the real deal, a hereditary monarch. Or maybe the Romans would have perceived it that way, which might make the crucifixion seem a bit more sensible.
During the show, I also felt a good bit of sorrow for Judas. Assuming God exists in the way people often interpret him, and he’s omnipotent and omniscient, then Judas was acting according to God’s plan. Somebody had to betray Jesus, and the task fell to Judas. I guess space is going to force me to avoid the whole discussion of free will, but it’s certainly a theme that comes to mind at this production. I think we’ve all done things for what we thought were the right reasons, and then came to regret them. I can’t imagine the staggering pain and guilt he must have felt to commit suicide.
That’s a lot of spiritual thinking for just having gone to a rock ’n’ roll musical. Jesus Christ Superstar is likely to inspire others’ thoughts along the same line. And don’t be surprised if they walk out singing.