The sign was emblazoned with red letters: “Jesus Christ Superstar? NO! Lord and Savior!”
My youngest son and I had to make our way past the protestors if we were going to watch the classic 70s rock opera penned by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. A balding man rushed toward me, waving a sheet of paper. “Would you like to know the real Jesus?” he asked.
“I’m a Christian,” I replied. “I know the real Jesus.”
As I scurried toward the theater entrance, the man said, “You might want to re-read your Bible!”
Making our way to our seats, my son asked why these folks were so angry about Jesus Christ Superstar. I told him that the musical had been controversial from the beginning. Perhaps the protestors didn’t like a Bible story mixed with rock music. Maybe they were uncomfortable with Mary Magdalene’s secret love for Jesus. Or they could have been miffed that the musical ends with the crucifixion of Christ without covering the Resurrection.
No matter – these folks were on a holy crusade to snatch a theatergoer from the jaws of hell.
I’m still amazed how we Christians major in the minors. Seeing a teachable moment with my son, I shared that the protestors could have better invested their time in feeding the homeless or visiting the sick. I didn’t want to come across as too holier-than-thou, but I confess that I was miffed. As a performer myself, I know that the power of drama can move hearts in a way that sometimes the spoken word just can’t do. Even my 25-year old son, who hasn’t regularly attended church since high school, admitted that the crucifixion scene toward the end of the musical was particularly poignant.
There is a line that Mary Magdalene sings to the sleeping Jesus that I believe even the protestors would agree with. In I Don’t Know How to Love Him, Mary confesses, “I’ve been changed, yes really changed. In these past few days, when I’ve seen myself, I seem like someone else.” Later in the song, Mary wonders why Jesus moves her so because, after all, “he’s a man; he’s just a man.”
Jesus Christ Superstar focuses on the human nature of Jesus, but for those who are paying attention, there’s something else going on here. Jesus is no mere man. He has the power to rescue a prostitute, galvanize disciples, provoke a mighty empire. Mary Magdalene couldn’t understand why a flesh-and-blood man (and she had had many men) could move her so. I choose to believe that even a secularized portrayal of Jesus, done powerfully, can prod theatergoers to ask the same question. I have faith that God has many tools at His disposal to draw people to His Son, so in the end they join Mary in confessing, “I love him so.”