Watching Jesus Pray?

I spent this week teaching the sophomores about how the author of Mark's Gospel portrayed Jesus. Working through the textbook and looking at the Gospel itself, we have been working to understand what  'Mark' accented and highlighted and then questioning why these emphases were important to the author. 

One thing I have found is that many of my students seem to think that the crucifixion was simply a minor inconvenience, a necessary-yet-regrettable occurrence for Jesus. In an effort to help them another way of viewing Jesus, I had them watch a YouTube clip of Jesus Christ Superstar. The clip I chose, "Gethsemane", is but one interpretation of the events following the Last Supper. We listened to the song twice, once by watching the clip, the second time while reading the lyrics. We tried to be attentive to both music and lyrics. If you're interested in viewing it for yourself: 


Two things I noticed: 

  1. The kids very quickly understood that this was Jesus' prayer. The prayer starts with Jesus' stated want, his expressed desire: to let the cup of poison pass from his lips. The whole song is the working out of this desire until, as lush strings carry his prayers into the horizon of the rising sun, he accedes to God's will. The God whom he knew as his Abba holds "all the cards" and has been behind this the whole time, thus by the end of the song Jesus accepts the consequences of his mission. He does not "see the future" so much as he reads the signs of the times; he accepts the fate of all prophets who dare to defy the powers and principalities in a sinful and broken world.
  2. One way of mapping this sung prayer is by considering it in light of the Kübler-Ross 5-Stage Model of Grief. Recall that Kübler-Ross saw five nodal points that seemed to be common as people negotiated the experience of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. While the merits of this typography can be contested, it is interesting to consider the song "Gethsemane" in light of this model. At the very least, it gave the students a lens to focus on the material and helped to frame our discussion in a way that seemed, to me at least, meaningful.
For many of my students, the study of Jesus is difficult because they don't have either the cultural or liturgical context to place him. Without an imagination that has been formed by the liturgy or a given Christian sensibility, approaching the study of Jesus Christ from the standpoint of art, music, and literature provides one way to gain traction in presenting the Messiah. If nothing else, it served yesterday as a good point of departure for some interesting discussions and, I get the sense, some of my more hardened skeptics walked away with the sense that there might be more to this "Jesus fellow" than they might have first thought. 

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