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Are We Salvageable?

I missed most of the Easter Sunday NBC production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” but I’ve been watching segments on YouTube and have been so moved by Sara Bareilles’ rendition of “I don’t know how to love him.” You can watch it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3WRA0wSWDg&list=RDU3WRA0wSWDg.

The production’s ratings were “a little shy of miraculous” for such a program in early April, says the periodical AdAge, and Bareilles undoubtedly deserves much of the credit.

She plays Mary Magdalene, portrayed in the production as a reformed prostitute. Actually, there’s no evidence in the Bible that that was the case. It is thought to be a confusion that arose in the medieval church.

Strong, Independent Woman

Instead, scripture scholars view Magdalene as “a strong, independent woman who supported Jesus financially and spiritually.” The “prostitute” view, of course, makes a better story, but the misunderstanding does nothing to take away from the performance. And Jesus certainly encountered and empathized with prostitutes, according to the Bible.

Bareilles is so human, so vulnerable, so conflicted about her relationship with Jesus, exhibiting emotions with which modern people can easily relate. That is evident especially in this last verse of the song in which she doesn’t know whether a relationship with Jesus would be about ordinary human love or something much more. 

Yet, if he said he loved me
I’d be lost. I’d be frightened
I couldn’t cope, just couldn’t cope
I’d turn my head, I’d back away
I wouldn’t want to know
He scares me so
I want him so
I love him so

Bareilles’ rendition of “Everything’s Alright” is equally moving. Whether you accept that Jesus is God or not, it focuses on the question of how to deal with God, who is like us and so unlike us.

But lyrics meant to comfort Jesus also attempt to domesticate him, turn him away from his mission, help him conform and be “like everybody else.”

Try not to get worried
Try not to turn onto
Problems that upset you
Well, don’t you know
Everything’s all right
Yes, Everything’s fine
And we want you to sleep well tonight
Let the world turn without you tonight
If we try we’ll get by
So forget all about us tonight

It’s evident from reading the gospels that Jesus’ disciples were at a loss in knowing how to deal with Jesus, who was obviously much more than an ordinary itinerant rabbi. The apostle, Peter – a simple fisherman – was especially confused. He comes off as decidedly impulsive, bringing to mind the 18th century poet Alexander Pope’s line, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

The incident now referred to as “the transfiguration” describes a scene in which Jesus takes selected disciples, including Peter, to a “high mountain,” where Jesus’ face “shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”

Foot squarely in mouth

In the midst of what was described as a particularly mystical experience, Peter places his foot squarely in his mouth. “Lord, it is good that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Some Scripture scholars believe the transfiguration occurred at the time of the Hebrews’ Feast of Booths, commemorating their dwelling in booths for seven days as described in the Book of Leviticus.)

But before Peter finished speaking, according to the gospel account, “a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved son…listen to him.”

In another gospel story, Peter shows his impulsiveness when told that the man walking on water toward the disciples’ boat was Jesus. Peter immediately jumped in the water to get to Jesus, having to be saved from drowning.

To me, the apostles are the perfect bunch to represent us humans. They lacked thoughtfulness, were cowardly, sought titles and privilege and ultimately betrayed Jesus. Yet, for Jesus, they were salvageable.

Like us.

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