In the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar – which feels like the soundtrack to my life sometimes – there’s big number where Simon the Zealot is dancing around with a bunch of people singing, “Christ, you know I love you!” (It’s actually my least favorite song in the opera.) But, there’s a moment that I’ve been reflecting on this morning.
Simon sings, “There must be over 50,000/Screaming love and more for you!/And every one of 50,000/ Would do whatever you asked them to.”
He then leans in conspiratorially to Jesus, and sings, “Keep them yelling their devotion/But add a touch of hate at Rome./You will rise to greater power/We will win ourselves a home!”
It’s pretty well accepted, both historically and as an article of faith in Christianity, that the term Messiah was used for someone who was going to deliver the Jews from Roman oppression. It wasn’t a term that invoked images of lions lying down with lambs or a “suffering servant.”
There’s also a story of Jesus being tempted in the desert, before beginning His public ministry. Satan comes to Him, and the third temptation is, “I will give you all the Kingdoms of this world, if you will only bow down and worship me.”
Of course, Jesus refuses. And, all my life, I have assumed that the refusal to lead the Jewish people in violent revolution was just as easy as refusing Satan’s offer of power.
But, what if it wasn’t?
Words have always been my most powerful tool. Even as a kid, I always seemed to know just how to say something to get my point across. It’s why I take so much pleasure in blogging, or writing on social media: there’s such a feeling of triumph when your words turn someone’s head or change someone’s mind on an important issue. The greatest words that I’ve ever heard or read after I’ve written something is, “I’ve never thought about it that way.”
Lately, my words have been turning ugly. The election of Donald Trump and the ugly, public hatred that led to it and has followed from it has put me in a state of constant anger. And, my words have turned from a tool into a weapon. Instead of preaching love and forgiveness, compassion even for our enemies, I’m advocating punching Nazis. Instead of praying for those who curse and hurt me – and those I love – I’m lashing out, calling names, even going so far as wishing for their deaths.
It’s like I’ve become all the worst parts of the Old Testament, a copy of the vengeful God that commanded the Israelites to pillage every village and kill every foreigner in their path to the Promised Land.
It feels so damn right, though. I mean, I’m on the side of justice. My anger is righteous. I’m advocating punching Nazis… because they’re fucking Nazis who publicly talk about black genocide and follow a man who killed 6 million Jews. I’m wishing for the death of people who would leave refugees out in the cold, detain and handcuff old people and children because of their country of origin.
These are truly bad, awful people, and I feel so good and right about hating them.
But, then I reflect on this moment in Jesus Christ Superstar. Even though it’s a fictionalized account, I imagine that this was a constant temptation for Jesus. He might have easily said “no” to Satan’s offer of power… but, how easy was it to say “no” to the endless crowds who wanted Him to deliver them from injustice. How hard was it to refuse that power to bring righteous anger onto the people who were oppressing his followers and countrymen? It wouldn’t have taken much. All He had to do was change the tone a little, stop speaking against violence and loving enemies, let His rhetoric stir up just a little bit of that anger that was simmering beneath the system. It would have all been for a good cause.
But, He wouldn’t. He still taught that we need to love our enemies, to not resist evil with evil methods… because He knew that we become that evil. He knew that the slide from righteous anger to outright, blind hatred was quick and steep. He told Peter to put away his sword because He knew how easy it was to take it out and keep it out.
I would have rejoiced at Peter cutting off that Roman toady’s ear. I would have burned with righteous fury.
But, Jesus didn’t. He kept feeling that compassion, that love for the people who were ready to kill him. Somehow, Jesus resisted both the narrow-minded, bigoted, moralistic religion of His detractors and the militant, violent, revolutionary spirit of some of His followers.
I don’t know how He did it. I’m stuck on that steep slide into hatred. But, I want to get back up it. I’m trying to.
And that’s more than I could say yesterday.