John had never seen Jesus Christ Superstar before, so we all three watched it again the other night. I hadn’t seen it since 1973 when it was first shown. I hadn’t realized it until I was watching it again, but it had had a profound effect on me and had shaped a lot of my theology which remains in place to this day. I was really surprised and pleased at how much I thought they had gotten right and how so many in Jesus’s day and for millennia since just didn’t get Him, didn’t get what He meant, what He stood for, what He died for, and for whom He rose, and still don’t really understand. I’ll get back to that but I did have some issues with the film. Maybe because I was raised in the south in the midst of bigotry and hate for African-Americans, I really did not like them casting Judas as a black man, especially since he hangs himself at the end, and the audience sees a black man hanging from a tree and maybe thinks it was justified. It would have been better in my mind if Jesus had been black, but that’s just me wanting a more accurate racial look at a semitic from the Middle East. I did like the Jesus/Judas relationship as it was presented and that was done powerfully well. Another issue I had with the film was it portraying Mary Magdalene as a former prostitute. There is simply nothing, absolutely nothing in the scriptures to even suggest it. It didn’t become a part of church tradition until Pope Gregory made it so in 1591. As of today, the Catholic Church does NOT consider her to be that kind of woman as she was one of the most important women in the Gospels other than Mary the mother of Christ. There are many women’s movements within and without the Catholic church working to restore her to the prominence she deserves. You go, ladies. Mary Magdalene’s songs echoed later by Judas really get to the heart of the question, “How do we love, Jesus?” The movie, and the book on which it was based (surely I don’t have to tell you its title?) is fairly clear—we love Him by loving others, all others, including our enemies and those who persecute us. The movie does an excellent job of showing Jesus great love for all, and with the exceptions I’ve noted above, I highly recommend it.
Now, if there is one thing that really stood out for me in the film, it was that His disciples and His enemies never really understood who He was and why He was here. He did not come to establish an institution or to build buildings or to make public policy. Jesus Christ came to demonstrate God’s love for us, all of us, each of us, no matter how stained, how broken, or how far away we are from the ideal He preached. When Christ cleanses the Temple in the film, I immediately wondered just how He would feel about a $90 million dollar church building with so many going hungry in its shadow. How many churches and church leaders would that Christ have driven from His sight? I suspect the number would be very high. Churches that spend almost all the money that comes in on themselves and only give a small percentage to outreach and missions will stand in His judgement, in my humble opinion. Charles Stanley used to say that a great church was “a dollar in, a dollar out” church. In other words, the church budget would be 50% for maintaining the church and paying salaries and buying choir robes, but 50% of the budget would be for outreach and missions. I wonder how your church would be judged by that standard? Of course, I could be wrong, but Zacchaeus was a bad man by his society’s standards yet promised Christ he’d give half of his money to the poor—just half, and Christ was pleased and blessed Zacchaeus. If we love others, we don’t let them die of hunger, or be killed by bigots, or go without clothes and shelter. That wonderful old hymn says, “They will know we are Christians by our love” not by our buildings or by the size of our congregations or by how great our praise bands are or by how much we pay our pastors. The critical element as addressed by Christ Himself in the 25th Chapter of Matthew is how we treat the hungry, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. It seems to me that Christ has said, in no uncertain terms, that for Him to love us, we must love others, all others, and we will be judged on that and that alone. Now there’s a sobering thought, but one we each should think about. Can I get a witness?