Every year on Good Friday, I re-listen to the audio version of the rock-opera Jesus Christ Superstar
- not because the theology is any good, but because I’ve found that nothing better captures the human sinfulness of Jesus’ enemies than this somewhat fictionalized version of the great, true story we all know so well. If Easter is a day to wonder at the miracle of death’s defeat and to be grateful for the redemption offered us through the risen Savior, Good Friday is a day to lament the dreadful human venality that led to the crucifixion of an entirely innocent man.
With that outlook in mind, I listen to Superstar
- and it has much to teach us about humankind, even if it does not illuminate, or well represent, our faith.
One thing Superstar
makes evident - in accordance, I think, with the spirit of the Gospels - is just how wicked it is to let human politics supersede matters of the soul and of the divine. The musical’s portrayal of high priest Caiaphas, former high priest Annas, and three other Temple priests is strikingly memorable. They first appear as Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, with the five priests completely uninterested in matters of the spirit and instead obsessed with their political positions:
Caiaphas: Ah, gentlemen, you know why we are here. We’ve not much time, and quite a problem here....
Priest 2: The man is in town right now to whip up some support
Priest 3: A rabble-rousing mission that I think we must abort...
Caiaphas: No, wait: We need a more permanent solution to our problem....
Annas: We dare not leave him to his own devices: his half-witted fans will get out of control.
Priest 3: But how can we stop him? His glamour increases by leaps every minute: He’s top of the poll.
Caiaphas: I see bad things arising - the crowd crowns him king, which the Romans would ban. I see blood and destruction, our elimination, because of one man....
Priest 3: Where do we start with a man who is bigger than John was when John did his Baptism thing?
Caiaphas: Fools! You have no perception! The stakes we are gambling are frighteningly high! We must crush him completely. So like John before him, this Jesus must die. For the sake of the nation, this Jesus must die.
This is cruel and Machiavellian politics at its worst. Later, Caiaphas and Annas use all the wiles of practiced politicians to sweet-talk Judas into his infamous betrayal of Jesus - appealing, like political demagogues do, to the part of Judas’ soul that wanted to self-justify his evil act. The crucial lines come from Caiaphas: “Think of the things you can do with that money [that they will pay for his information]: Choose any charity - give to the poor. We’ve noted your motives; we’ve noted your feelings. This isn’t ‘blood money,’ it’s a fee - nothing more.”
Did it matter to them if Jesus was genuinely healing people in body and soul? Did it matter if he was preaching the truth? Did it matter if he was bringing people to the love of God? No: All that mattered was politics - and, in this case, terribly misguided politics, indeed fundamentally immoral politics.
For nearly half a century now, adherents of what once was known as “The New Left” adopted as a by-word the saying that “everything is politics.” (It stemmed from a line from author Thomas Mann in The Magic Mountain
: “The apolitical does not exist - everything is politics.”) From this New Left perspective, family dynamics were “politics,” and interpersonal relations were “politics,” and job applications (especially in “elite” academia and journalism) were treated as “politics,” and religion itself certainly was all about “politics” too. And by politics, what these New Left adherents meant was a struggle, whether open or subtle, for power.
But this assertion, or theory, or whatever it is, should be anathema to people of faith.
Granted, a right-minded faith certainly does not require inattention to real politics (meaning matters in the politea
- the civic realm). Not at all. People of faith have both a right and a duty to engage in honest “politics” to try to improve their communities and their nations. But politics is not, should not be, all-encompassing. Family, faith, the workplace, our private lives: These realms are not and should not be inherently political. Not everything is about power. Not all aspects of life are struggles for advantage. And, rightly approached, some areas of life should be about what is almost the opposite of power: service, altruism, compassion...love
Jesus of Nazareth famously rejected politics, while in the service of a higher Love. Many of his followers, and even some of his own disciples, misunderstood this, and were flabbergasted and terribly disappointed when they realized His messianic mission was neither a political nor even necessarily an earthly one. Likewise, Caiaphas and Annas certainly saw Jesus as only a political threat - not the bearer of a purely (and wonderfully) spiritual promise.
, Annas asked “What then to do about Jesus of Nazareth - miracle wonderman, hero of fools?” In this Easter week, including on Good Friday, our proper answer as willing “fools” for Jesus Christ (which means we aren’t fools at all) is to do nothing but watch, and wonder, and accept and, penitentially and reverently, to love, and worship, and rejoice.
About The Contributor
Quin Hillyer is a Senior Fellow for The Center for Individual Freedom, a Senior Editor for the American Spectator magazine, and a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mobile. He has won mainstream awards for journalistic excellence at the local, state, regional and national levels. He has been published professionally in well over 50 publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, Investors Business Daily, National Review, the Weekly Standard, Human Events, and The New Republic Online. He is a former editorial writer and columnist for the Washington Times, the Washington Examiner, the Mobile Register, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and a former Managing Editor of Gambit Weekly in New Orleans. He has appeared dozens of times as a television analyst in Washington DC, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and as a guest many hundreds of times on national and local radio shows.
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