This past Sunday our Youth Choir, under the creative and visionary direction of Clark Sorrells, and with the support of 80-plus adult volunteers, presented (magnificently!) Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
Jesus Christ Superstar distresses some people; because it isn’t a complete, or completely accurate, presentation of the story of Jesus. Certainly, Superstar doesn’t say everything about Jesus that Christians believe to be essential; but, in my view, it gives us a compelling and significant portrait of the humanity of Jesus. The classic Christian affirmation of Jesus is that he was both “fully divine” and “fully human,” but too many of his followers don’t embrace his humanity. As a consequence, their Jesus is a faint and bland imitation of the vibrant and colorful human being we discover in the New Testament.
Superstar’s Jesus unsettles many people, because he lived and died on the knife edge of despair and doubt; he was nearly consumed—not quite, but nearly—by gnawing frustration, relentless fatigue, inexorable fate, and looming failure. Other people are troubled by Jesus’ openness to the overflowing love of Mary Magdalene, a love she did not fully understand. There are passion and uncertainty, ardor and ambiguity, in Superstar’s version of their relationship.
In these and other ways, Superstar pushes us to acknowledge the humanity of Jesus. Human beings experience the pangs of hunger and thirst, the energies of sensuality and sexuality, the comforts and delights, as well as the pain and hurt, of touch, the frustrations of fatigue, struggles with doubt, the need for beauty and truth, the yearning to love and be loved, the desire to be caught up in joy, the longing for ecstasy, and the lure of transcendence. All of these experiences, and more, are part of human nature. Jesus dealt with them, just as we do.
For me, Jesus is the human face of God (a phrase I borrowed from John A. T. Robinson). When I look at Jesus, I see what a human being is meant to be. He was awake and aware. He did not endure life; he engaged and embraced it. He was passionate about freedom, justice, and peace, impatient with pretense, and suspicious of power. He welcomed the stranger and the marginalized. He laughed and cried. He showed us the joy of compassion and forgiveness. He delighted in the beauty and abundance of creation. He had eyes and ears for the extraordinary wonders which wait to be discovered in ordinary things. He was gloriously and wondrously alive. When I see Jesus, I see what it means to be human, and he awakens in me a desire to be like him.