Let's celebrate the friend of sinners.
“Which of the two sons did what the father asked?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said, “Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him.
Matthew 21:31-32, The Message
I just watched Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera streaming with my husband last night. Thank you, Sir Andrew, for making this free for a time while those who are musical theatre aficionados, like me, under quarantine. What a special gift! I think our boys thought we had "lost it" when I started vocally pounding the opening bar.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (JCS) was the first musical by Webber and Tim Rice to be on the professional stage. Shocker, it had controversial reactions from religious groups! But ... it was a huge success and made into a motion picture. Some time ago I went to see one of my best friends perform in this long-time favourite of mine ... and I had some thoughts.
Did Jesus go to church? Synagogue? Probably. My husband says Christians generally spend way more time talking about what goes on between 9 and 11 a.m. on Sunday morning than they ever do about their lives during the week. It seems that Jesus LIVED "church" as a verb instead of a noun. It was His life because PEOPLE were his life.
Those who know me personally and those who read what I write have probably figured out that I'm not into institutional Christianity. I like being a the part of a church, I really do, but Lord help me, I have always kinda disliked "doing church" -- if that makes sense. And it has only been in the last few years that I haven't minded admitting it. I didn't want church to become a social club where I am the nerd because I don't necessarily process spiritual things the way others might.
Fortunately, I do now worship at a place full of people like me... but I digress. Let's talk about Jesus and YOU ...
YOU LIKE JESUS AS A PERSON
Everything that indicates God, Jesus is. Fortunately, we can also say that everything it means to be human, Jesus is. Jesus' humanity and His divinity provide us with hope in this life and the fantastic expectation of a life to come.
But at the end of the day, when it all comes down to the wire, you know, you truly just like Jesus as a person ... even though He's the son of THE MOST HIGH GOD and all, you just - like Him. Jesus spent time with people. He listened, helped, touched people, and hurt alongside people.
Instead of concentrating on the divinity of Jesus, the musical focuses on Judas Iscariot and Mary Magdalene. These were the most potentially controversial people involved in His life. Another thought that is highlighted in JCS is that Jesus hung out with people he didn't always agree with and they still felt loved by him. He stood up for what was right when it was right. And He loved.
He also gave people second chances. Peter, one of Jesus disciples, denied he ever knew him when Jesus was wrongly arrested.
"I had to do it, don't you see? Or else they'd come for me!" (JCS)
And he did not deny him once but three - different - times. Peter felt like such a loser (been there?); he even returned to his former occupation as a fisherman. But Jesus came to him and gave him a second chance. He allowed Peter to assist him and help begin the early church!
You may already be thinking of the times He's given you a chance after chance to remain in Him?
JESUS LIKES YOU 'ANYWAY'
One of the reasons the show JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR appeals to me (apart from the kickin' hippie rock music) is that instead of concentrating on the divinity of Jesus, the musical focuses on, as I mentioned, the most potentially controversial people involved in His life. Oh, the complexity of their humanity. ALL of these friends had socially and spiritually questionable choices. Two lift their voices in emotionally different moments, and beautifully roar the same internal struggle: "I don't know how to love him ... "
It is a beautiful thing when the goodness of Jesus and the love of his followers match up, right? The value of his perfections and the intensity of our affections ignite when they correspond. And it is not as pretty when they do not -- rather, it can be suicidal, as one of his followers proved.
Judas, the one who betrayed him, realized that Jesus was doomed. Overcome with remorse, he gave back the thirty silver coins to the high priests, saying, “I’ve sinned. I’ve betrayed an innocent man.” They said, “What do we care? That’s your problem!”
-Matthew 27:3-4, MSG
Just as God gave Moses a second chance (remember that?), His son Jesus gave Mary Magdalene and Peter a second chance, and He would have given Judas one as well. Offering forgiveness and giving second chances is what Jesus (and his followers!) do.
It is also important to note that Mary Magdalene is recognised as one of the women who rejected even the possibility of leaving Jesus at the cross - and this points to what is by far the most powerful testimony about her! All four Gospels (and another early Christian text, the Gospel of Peter) explicitly name her as present at the tomb, and in John, she is the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus. This—not repentance or even sexual self-denial—is her most significant appeal. SHE. NEVER. LEFT HIM.
While the soldiers were looking after themselves, Jesus’ mother, his aunt, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood
at the foot of the cross.
-John 19:24-27, MSG
Are you Mary? Or are you Peter? Maybe just a little of Judas? You have long believed that Jesus loves you, right? I mean, the cross is the demonstration of that — but some days when you look at the person in the mirror, it’s difficult to believe that your Savior likes you, too. Isn't it? The Pulse has some great scripture to study when you are believing things like that.
Yet days do still exist when you just feel unlovable and possibly don't deserve that second chance. I don’t know about you, but there are times I have to remind myself that Scripture tells ME that the One who took my place on Calvary does not merely tolerate us through clenched teeth or adopt us because of holy compulsion. As absurd as it sounds, the One who first loved you, actually LIKES you, too. And that is both the same and an entirely different connection to Him.
But isn't that cool? ;)
JESUS WILL CHALLENGE YOU
My friend Julie once told me when she first heard Jesus Christ Superstar years ago it was also the first time she had ever listened to any semblance of the story of Jesus and that the lyrics, "I don't know how to love Him...", in particular haunted her for days. Julie is a real Jesus-lover and is now married to ... a preacher. I love that her first introduction to Jesus was the Superstar musical. Why did this appeal to her? Well. Years ago, she told me it was because Jesus was the kind of man who touched people in a way that confused them and challenged them as human beings while never letting go of their hearts.
You know, it is an excellent friend who can convict you, confuse you and tick you off that much yet still be the first person you'll call to 'throw back a cold one' with you or be the first to be by your side when a tornado hits your home. I just wonder if Jesus were here in the flesh today if he would go into a building and sing praises to Himself or grab a shovel when your house floods, hang out at the local bar with his friends, and truly live alongside people.
I am quite confident I know the answer to that.
Love God and love neighbor. Put this love into practice. It is risky, it is costly, but it is practical. It reaches out to the person who needs it and it offers genuine help. Ask yourself questions like Who does Jesus want me to love? , Who did Jesus welcome? , or What does the Bible say about misfits? You'll find that He definitely challenges us to love an inclusive, practical love.
You are charged to love those we don’t usually want to love. Maybe Jesus also challenges you the very most by daring you to imagine, maybe, who the Samaritans are in your life? Who are the people you think of as “other,” as unconventional, as in some judgment outside your circle of fellow human beings? That is exactly when His call to love truly matters. I am sure of it.
Pretty sure you are sure of that too. ;)
"The lost and forgotten, they look to you still.
God help the outcasts, or nobody will."
-God Help the Outcast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz
I'll bet he'd watch Phantom of the Opera with me. Maybe he'd be in awe of the same music I am. Who knows? What I DO know about Jesus is that He'd more likely have a delayed lunch with someone who hurt him and he'd tell them that there is such a thing as unconditional love and forgiveness. And then maybe, just possibly, after taking N-95 masks to nurses in the hospital, they'd go out for a beer.
You already know that you cannot truly enter God’s Kingdom until you spot and care for the King, know Him in his humanness, understand He is GOD come near us and let that challenge and CHANGE you.
And maybe that change is what can be disconcerting – after all, don’t we believe in a system of grace where believing in Jesus is enough? But ... if you stop to reflect on it – how will you ever know you are in His kingdom if you can’t recognise that the King who thinks you belong there?
And that's just it. Jesus' brand of relational living is already in you because YOU already believe He truly is a superstar ... one that can teach you exactly how to love Him.
For further insight into Jesus' relationship with touching people with questionable lifestyles,
see Matthew 9:9-13, 11:16-19, Mark 2:13-17, Luke 5:27-32, 7:31-50, 15:1-2, 19:10