Andrew Lloyd Webber is the name that comes to mind when you think of
Jesus Christ, Superstar
. And well it should, for his music is truly impressive - both stunning and hummable! But as I reflect on the recent live broadcast, it is the insightful lyrics of Tim Rice that I find most memorable - and most challenging.
Rice's lyrics reveal so much about how people respond to Jesus! There is the shallow, enthusiasm of the Palm-Sunday crowds:
Christ, you know I love you; did you see I waved?
I believe in you and God, so tell me that I'm saved!
There are the disciples, at the Last Supper, thinking about how this will look on their resumes:
Then when we retire we can write the gospels
So they'll still talk about us when we've died.
There is Herod's sneering, sarcastic contempt (once he's convinced that Jesus is no longer a threat):
So, you are the Christ, you're the great Jesus Christ?
Prove to me that you're divine - change my water into wine.
(Of course, it's not just the lyrics that make any of these songs memorable. Without Lloyd Webber's honky-tonk piano setting, Herod's song would lose much of its sarcastic tone.)
And then there is Judas - Judas of all people! - who has the audacity to look down his nose at Jesus for associating with Mary Magdalene:
That a man like you can waste his time
On women of her kind.
I'm not sure how accurate Rice's insights are into the thinking and the motives of any of the characters in the gospel accounts of the passion. That is not the point. The point of any passion play (which is what Superstar is) is to prompt the audience to see themselves in the characters of the drama. And, oh do I! More than I would like to admit: The shallow, cheap-grace, enthusiasm of the Palm-Sunday crowds. Opportunities for ministry turned into bullet-points of my resume. Quiet disdain for people of "that kind," whatever kind that might be, whom I do not find to be worthy of my time.
What impresses me is not that Rice and Lloyd Webber offer insight into the biblical characters; it is that they offer insight into myself. Which is why these words, which Rice puts into the mouth of Jesus, are so haunting:
Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand...
Understand what power is,
Understand what glory is,
Understand at all.
Understand at all.
- by Bill