Again, “Jesus Christ Superstar” isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there are countless errors here in the details. For example, where’s the donkey?
But Tim Rice’s lyrics and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music do an excellent job, I think, of showing the tensions among the various groups and agendas. It was a moment of celebration but also a step toward inevitable death.
Jesus really is the King of the Jews. He deserved the adulation. The crowds and the shouting were entirely appropriate. And yet the crowd — most of them — really wanted a return of the Maccabees, a worldly king who would overthrow the Romans. They wanted political power and political freedom.
Others wanted to see more miracles. They were after the spectacular. They wanted entertainment.
Others brought sick relatives and friends, wanting to be among the few whose healing would glorify God — but their agenda wasn’t God’s glory; it was healing for those whom they loved.
Others wanted to preserve the status quo — safety from the Romans achieved through compromise and collaboration. Of course, it was a status quo that happened to privilege a select group of leaders at the expense of the common man. They wanted to preserve their privilege.
One saw a chance to make some money. After years of poverty, wandering the countryside persecuted and penniless, it was time to cash in. After all, didn’t Jesus realize the danger he was putting his people in? What could be better than protecting the nation from the Romans and getting paid to do it?
Mary wanted to worship him and to do so by giving up everything — the nard that likely represented her life savings, her dignity, her modesty, and even her life. After all, if Lazarus was threatened with death, she might not be far behind. Mary wanted to worship in Spirit and in truth.
Martha wanted to serve him through hospitality. No one would raise her brother from the dead and not be invited to dinner!
Lazarus just wanted to be with Jesus, even at the cost of his life. He shared a couch with Jesus to eat dinner together, knowing that the authorities wanted him dead for his loyalty to Jesus.
The disciples wanted to follow Jesus — even to the death — but weren’t really ready for how terrible things would soon become.
A precious few souls not only believed that Jesus was the Messiah, they were willing to let Jesus set the agenda. They’d follow him into war with Rome or to the cross. They were the true sheep, following the Shepherd just because he’s the Shepherd, trusting him to know the way, drawn by the lovingkindness of God.
Which would you have been? Would you have feared the Jewish authorities, who wanted Jesus dead? Would you have stood beside him all the way to the cross? The apostles didn’t. What makes you think you would have?
Would you have been willing to lose friends and family to follow Jesus? Philip, Andrew, Nathanael, and Peter left family and friends in Bethsaida to never return. Would you do that?
Would you surrender your dignity to wash his feet with your tears? Are you that grateful for his forgiveness?
This is the challenge of John 12. We’d all like to pretend that we’d have been among the very few faithful, but in reality, we quake when the church down the road threatens to speak ill of us. We are unwilling to be open about our views when they might cost us a pleasant Thanksgiving meal with family.
Indeed, how many of us are even willing to publicly declare our faith? How many of us, like the blind man, would give up our congregations and our livelihoods to follow Jesus?
Chapter 12 shows Jesus confronted with a terrible choice. He can hide in Ephraim and be safe, or he can return to his capitol city and be recognized as King — the Messiah he truly is — at the price of his life.
He could have made being a disciple cheap. Just leave home and hang out in Ephraim, hiding from God’s mission. Or he could have made being a disciple ultimately expensive. Enter Jerusalem and be seen as threatening Roman hegemony. Be the King he truly is — and die.
There was no path by which Jesus could claim to be King of a Kingdom not of this world without threatening those kingdoms that are of this world. Jesus had no desire to take Caesar’s place, but worldly powers aren’t willing to take second place, and Jesus demands that his followers put him ahead of Rome and Judea, the Senate and the Sanhedrin. Nationalism and patriotism must be hung on the cross with Jesus — and this is what killed him.