Vatican Corner 04-01-2018


Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, while in their twenties, wrote the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. The musical is sung throughout with no dialogue. Because the producers were afraid to gamble their money on such a different kind of a show, the title song was released as a single record to see what would happen. No one knew when they first heard the song that this was the character Judas Iscariot scolding Jesus. They also didn’t know that the lyric would become the central point of the entire show and the answer to the story’s central question: Why did Judas betray Jesus? Judas saw the superstardom, the hype, the celebrity status building around Jesus and how it overpower Jesus’ philosophical message. So, he turned away from him. The song was a big hit. The whole opera was then recorded and had great commercial success. The Vatican radio station played the album. Then in 1971 the stage show was produced due to the success the music had. The opera is loosely based on the Gospel’s accounts of the last week of Jesus’s life. The show’s creators said they never intended to tell the “Biblical” story, but instead an alternative story of famous events and approaching Jesus from the point of view of Judas. The groundbreaking approach of the opera was at first strange to the Vatican which had mixed views. It criticized the portrayal of Jesus as too human and too glitzy. Some Christian fundamentalists felt it demeaned or trivialized Jesus or was even blasphemous. The show was panned by some critics but was hugely popular with the public. It is said that this show remains the most protested-against work in the history of musical theatre. Jews were understandably concerned about how they were portrayed. Christians were upset by how Jesus was depicted as very human. He is sometimes overwhelmed by his divinity. Sometimes he is irritated with his disciples. He tells the sick to leave him alone. There is an implied intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalen. The show never suggests that Jesus wasn’t divine, but neither did it reinforce the view that he was. Judas is portrayed not as a devil but as a tragic figure dissatisfied with the direction in which Jesus steers his disciples, and afraid it will bring the wrath of the Romans. Other controversial aspects of the show were that the Resurrection is not shown, Judas blames God for his suicide, and Mary Magdalene claims Jesus is “just a man.” Some people see a love-triangle between Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene. The show has a counterculture flavor, with slang, and ironic allusions to modern life scattered throughout. In 1974 the Vatican defended the show against Christian conservatives who believed it blasphemed Jesus. After 28 year of criticism about the rock opera, The Vatican In 1999 endorsed it for the first time and said it was an appropriate spectacle for pilgrims. It was performed at the Vatican in 2000 as part of the jubilee festival held every 25 years. When he heard the news, lyricist Tim Rice said he was very surprised and very happy. One professor of theology in Rome said that the accusations that the musical demeaned or trivialized Jesus were misplaced. That show is just one of a long tradition of Passion Plays that depict the suffering and death of Christ The first such depiction began in1634. All are reenactments of the Easter story, and they serve to bring immediacy to the suffering of Jesus and a renewal of his message of redemption.


Have you ever accused someone of something terrible or spread vicious and slanderous rumors without any facts or evidence in order to go along with the group? Then later found out that it was all lies due to misunderstanding, jealousy, or hate? If so, whose footsteps do you think you were following, those of Jesus or those of Judas?