Life after Epiphany


receiving mercy, learning to relate

Controversial as it may be initially to hear this from a sincere Catholic, I REALLY love the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. In a qualified way.

Before I continue, let me clarify that I concur with all who claim that the portrayal of Christ is not one that can be taken seriously as an accurate representation of Christ. JCS portrays a very human Christ and neglects any treatment of His Divinity. This could be interpreted as implicit denial of the Divinity of Christ, the beginnings of an excursion into the realms of Arianism. However, strictly speaking, to arrive at such a conclusion is a blatant non sequitur. The only explicit denial of Christ’s Divinity comes from Judas, the traitor, who is portrayed in the musical as a troubled dissident amidst the ranks of the Twelve with a political agenda. As in all art, perspective in Rock Opera is important and any analysis or review that manages to avoid the charge of superficiality will take perspective into account. Christ has two natures – human AND Divine. Quite simply, JCS considers the humanity of Christ; in that it is essentially an artistic work, it does not aim for historical or theological accuracy as to a complete representation of the person of Christ. The only categorical conclusion that holds from the absence of treatment of Christ’s Divinity is that this is outside of the scope of consideration for this piece of art. Thus, to suggest that enjoyment of the show is tantamount to endorsement of Christological heresy (a charge that has been levelled at me in the past) is not a logically tenable position.

What has all of this to do with mercy and relationship, you ask?

An answer to this depends upon the realization that JCS is not a story about Jesus at all. The name of the show is unfortunate and misleading, really… well, not entirely. I guess the name of the show is part of the satirical treatment of the hero-worship that society directs toward the modern-day celebrity. Thats definitely packed in there, and perhaps it was more central to the original intention of Rice and Lloyd Webber than I’m acknowledging. A great deal of social commentary is built into the show, of particular relevance to the original 1971 audience, and of historical relevance to the audiences that have followed up to our own time and beyond. But none of this is the point.

What I am getting at is that the meat and potatoes of the show is contained within the several parallel subplots that each examine the encounter with Christ of a different character. The accurate representation of each character, again, is not what the show is aiming for. Rather, each encounter and the portrayal of its character is a “what-if?” exercise. The character is more a type than a person, one that is portable through time and space. The viewer is invited to enter into each “what-if” story, to really consider the emotions and circumstances of each encounter, and to apply it to his own experience. The show isn’t about who Jesus is. The show is about who I as a viewer am in relation to Jesus.

NOW we’re ready to talk about mercy and relationship.

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