Our Catholic high school performed the musical Godspell this weekend. Inspired by St. Athanasius, I threw a homily grenade into the mix during our Friday school Mass. "Don't rely on Godspell for your gospel!" So after the play, I hung around the students as they struck the set to show my solidarity. A few of them and the director, wanted to know my thoughts.
The execution of the play was wonderful. The students surprised me with some hidden vocal talent that we need to harness for the parish! Very well done. Staff and students made it their own and as Catholic as they could, but I still have a couple fundamental points that struck me.
Before hand, it is important to note that this musical is really a moral interpretation of the Gospel of Matthew. It is reacting against the historical critical movement and its disarmament of the Gospel challenge. In that sense, it condenses the Gospel to the Beatitudes and parables. So two main flaws were evident in the songs and script and both were omissions.
- The identity of Jesus as Emmanuel
- The establishment of the Church
The absence of any mention of the Church was also glaring. When Matthew is stripped of the Church, it seems bare and harsh and even antisemitic. While Godspell includes Jesus' many and correct critiques of the faith in his day, they do not include his reestablishment of the Jewish faith around his own person. Jesus' critiques are scathing but they are not antisemitic, they are directed to recreating Israel around himself- that is why he names twelve apostles to imitate the twelve tribes.
The first song of Jesus in the play proclaim an individual salvation, omitting the idea that Jesus was recreating the Kingdom of Israel around himself and his life of grace. "Lord save your people, not thrones and crowns, but men!" The Gospel needs the Church. Without the Church, without those men Jesus commissioned at the Ascension, without those men and women who proclaimed him throughout the world there is no Gospel. Further, the Church is needed as Jesus' own voice, to teach the true understanding of him in the face of many conflicting and confusing visions of Jesus.
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he 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." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."Matthew 16:13-19
If any of you read this, you did a great job!