by Father Mark Goldasich
You’ve probably heard the following Scripture passage countless times, but never like this:
Jesus, in the region of Caesarea Philippi, asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the eschatological manifestation of a transcendent reality.”
And Jesus said, “What?!?”
So, who is this Jesus anyway?
Last month, I was finally able to attend some live, in-person theater productions — something snuffed out by the pandemic for over a year. It was fitting, I suppose, that two of those shows dealt with Jesus.
The first, called “Jesus,” was at the Sight & Sound Theatre in Branson, Missouri. The sets were massive and gave the audience a sensation of being in the places where Jesus walked, seeing the inhabitants in authentic attire. The storm at sea was so realistic that my stomach got queasy as the waves battered the boat.
Oh, did I mention the real camels? They were not only on stage, but moseyed through the audience as well. I also can’t forget the Roman soldiers mounted on their live horses clomping down the aisles. And, when Jesus cleared the Temple, live sheep and goats scampered through the theater. There was even an angel with about a six-foot wingspan who floated over the audience on a wire right before the Resurrection.
In this production, Jesus was presented as “the love that rescues.” He freed people from sin, doubt, disease and death. The show emphasized the divinity of Jesus, his almighty power and wisdom.
The second show was completely different. This was a 50-year anniversary production at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri. Here, the musicians were ringed around the back of the stage. The set consisted only of a towering scaffold and large alphabet blocks that spelled out the name of the show: G-O-D-S-P-E-L-L. This has always been one of my favorite shows with many songs that I know by heart and love.
For those unfamiliar with “Godspell,” the cast is attired in crazy, multicolored, unmatched outfits. The humanity of Jesus is emphasized in this production, and he’s presented as a dear friend and captivating storyteller.
It’s amusing to see how the cast members act out the various parables that Jesus tells, often with exaggerated props and slapstick antics. The parables and teachings of Jesus are not ridiculed, but rather are “pictured” in an unforgettable way. Most appealing to me is that Jesus here is shown as a person who radiates the joy of faith.
So, which of these shows presents the one, true picture of Jesus? I’d say the answer is: neither . . . and both! Let me explain: Just as each Gospel gives us a particular vision of Jesus, but not a complete one, so, too, do each of these shows. Although we get a glimpse of who Jesus is, we can never comprehend him fully. The British writer Evelyn Underhill says it best: “If God were small enough to be understood, he would not be big enough to be worshiped.”
In your travels this summer, look for opportunities to examine who Jesus is to you. Explore various depictions of Jesus — in art, movies, theater productions or books. No matter how you picture the Lord, however, there is one constant in our faith, beautifully captured in this memorable song from “Godspell”:
“Day by day, day by day, Oh dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day by day by day by day.”