A year or so ago I searched around to find a copy of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” In the late ’60s or early ’70s I had it as a genuine vinyl 33 1/3 high fidelity stereo album. This had long since gone missing, been loaned to someone or sold in a garage sale. No matter as I haven’t had a phonograph turntable in years. In any case, I found the CD version of the original recording on eBay and tend to listen to it around this time of year as part of my preparation for and participation in Lent.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” is not scripture, but an artist’s interpretation with artistic license used freely. George Carlin captured the situation years ago when he talked about an artist’s conception of heaven; something like, “tall clouds – could be clouds or could be skyscrapers, you aren’t really sure. Blonde angels – far too many blondes as far as I’m concerned…” Like most art, it is intended to convey or evoke an emotion rather than detail facts. Purists will no doubt find many problems with a 20th century rock musical, but for me there is some very real value.
“Superstar” helps me focus a bit on the wonder of salvation from many aspects. The undertaking that Christ freely accepted on behalf of all of us being the most significant, of course. There are other thoughts that impact me though, and depending on how the next 6 or 7 weeks unfold, I hope to share a few of them. Lent is not the easiest concept to wrap our minds around, so having some framework – even a musical – can sometimes help.
The character of Pilate is one of the most interesting. In the musical he has a dream before Christ is ever brought before him. In the dream he is taken aback by Christ’s silence. He then speaks of “wild and angry men; they seemed to hate this man.” Later when facing the wild and angry men – the Scribes and the Pharisees he attempts to extricate himself from the situation. “You’re Herod’s race,” he tells Jesus, “You’re Herod’s case!”
How many times, when faced with decisions do we try to find an easy way out? If I’m a typical example, then the answer is “far too many.” However, Pilate’s effort to avoid the difficult decision is not successful, and Herod returns Jesus to Pilate. The Roman prelate is the one who has the authority to have Christ executed, and that is what the powerful in Jerusalem want.
You have to wonder about Pilate. Being sent to manage the Jews was probably not a sought after assignment for military leaders. Leading troops in battle or being an advisor back in Rome, living the good life were probably far more attractive. Being sent far away to maintain order among strange tribes was most certainly not number one on his “dream list.” Ultimately, he finds himself facing a mob that may well riot if he doesn’t acquiesce and have this “Someone Christ, King of the Jews” crucified. His duty is to control the population and riots are not an acceptable activity within his area of responsibility. Although he is not at all convinced that Jesus should be executed, he gives in to preserve the peace and security of the territory for which he is responsible.
How many parallels can I see in my own life? How often have I justified a decision to myself, making it sound totally logical and defensible, even though I know better? How many things do we accept “to preserve the peace and security?” How many times do we take the easy way out?
In Pilate’s case, at least in the musical, his dream ended with the “wild and angry men” disappearing and being replaced by “thousands of millions crying for this man. Then I heard them mentioning my name and leaving me the blame.” The problem with taking the easy way out is that often the long term results are most unsatisfying.
Since “Superstar” is art, I leave you to your own emotional response. As for me, it reminds me very deeply as to why I am most assuredly happy that Christ’s death was to pay for our, and most especially for my failings.