Back in the 1970’s there was a Broadway musical that was quite controversial while it piqued the spiritual interests of the culture. It was the rock opera Jesus Christ, Superstar. I was enamored with that body of work as a young kid. I tried my adolescent best to pull off the same screams that Ian Gillian could emit. Never worked.
Anyway, the controversy centered around Tim Rice’s portrayal of Jesus through the lyrics of the songs, as well as the omission of the resurrection from the story (albeit, I still insist the movie version has a subtle resurrection implication…but honestly, who cares?) The complaints weren’t really without some merit.
The title song, however, posed a question that got the nation talking. I think that’s a good thing.
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
who are you what have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ, Superstar
Do you think you are what they say you are?
That’s such an important question to pose to Jesus. Who are you? That’s going to be the main subject we’ll be covering in portion of the narrative we’ll be reading this Sunday, Matthew 16:13-28.
Who do people of our day and age say that Jesus is? What differences can you detect between churches and who they see Jesus as being?
More importantly, who do you understand Jesus to be? Peter gives his great confession and Jesus validates both him and his words. In fact, I believe it’s this very confession that Jesus says he’ll build his church on. How does that inform you about what the church is?
As the narrative goes on, Jesus outlines his mission as Messiah. How do you think this fit with what the disciples expected Messiah to come and do? When Peter resists, Jesus begins a rebuke that mirrors his blessing from the previous verses, but goes the opposite way. How does that help us understand the distinction between the ways we pursue victory in this broken world over against the way God’s kingdom operates?
Worse yet, Jesus tells his disciples (that would be us, too) that our calling is to follow in his steps and take up our cross. The challenge is huge, but the stakes are high. To give up the advancement of our own will and ego in order to be conformed to Christ’s self-sacrificial love. What aspects of self-will are the most difficult for you to imagine releasing? On the other hand, what would be more important than finding wholeness in life God’s way?
I really love Eugene Peterson’s version of this section – I’ll leave you with that:
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? “Don’t be in such a hurry to go into business for yourself. Before you know it the Son of Man will arrive with all the splendor of his Father, accompanied by an army of angels. You’ll get everything you have coming to you, a personal gift.”