Crown of Thorns: Jesus Christ Superstar in the time of Covid

A coronavirus pandemic, a time of uncertainty and quarantines, added to Holy Week, are a good mix to make us more reflective and reopen our Bibles.  Imagining scenarios in this somewhat apocalyptic situation we are in, my mind wandered to a great Broadway musical as a worthwhile focus for some thoughts.

”Jesus Christ Superstar.”  With one of the most powerful portrayals of Jesus in showbiz history, it was a disruptor for Catholics in the world in the 1970s.  Many of the youth were warned it was a sin to watch the play or movie, that it would mislead, and it might even lead to immorality.  These warnings actually ensured that every student wanted to watch the movie — not once, but several times each.  Not alone, but with their dates and barkada (friends)!  That made the movie grow “virally” in its popularity.
The original 1973 movie had power in its ascetic spareness and insightful, witty lyrics (A scene of “Ted Neeley- Gethsemane”; there is also a year-2000 version ( with dazzling visuals, creative costumes, exaggerated expressions and great choreographed dancing.  It is a classic worth watching and re-watching.
This was discouraged by many Catholic leaders then, possibly because it went against the grain of a tradition of serious portrayals of the life of Christ — the tunes were catchy but they were rock!  It portrayed a Christ who not only doubted that he had to die but angrily questioned his God before accepting his destiny in a touching scene of submission.  The play portrayed brutally a count and show of each of the 40 lashes on Christ.  To the great horror of conservatives, it appeared to portray that he loved and was loved by a sensual Magdalene, singing the soulful hit “I don’t know how to love Him,” and had several scenes of sexily clad dancers.

The fears of the Church were unfounded, as the movie and songs made Jesus human and relatable, deepened both the faith and the feeling of community of the Catholic flock of that generation.  How can you not bond when everyone can sing the same loved tunes together? Today, more than 40 years later, many people who watched it can still sing the memorable lyrics of Caiaphas cajoling Judas to accept the pieces of silver to betray Jesus with, “That’s not blood money… it’s a fee, nothing more,” or a King Herod doing a shuffle dance asking Jesus to “won’t you walk across my swimming pool?” for his party guests.

The real disruptor here is Jesus, partly because of a radical life view that love is higher than justice, that the kingdom of heaven is easier for the poor to enter than for the rich and powerful, that the power and necessity of forgiveness is more important to practice than trying to attain perfection.  It is like saying that the virus, a state of sin, cannot be avoided though we should try through lifestyle, and since the many will fail, the vaccine and cures are needed.

The most radical disruption is not just the message: Jesus claimed he was not just a messenger but was literally the Son of God and simultaneously God himself, there from the beginning of time!  Sounds like a Marvel universe?! A bit like Thanos or Galactus. What made it harder to accept was that Jesus is helpless, ridiculed, humiliated, tortured and killed?  To top it all, Christians claim he rose from the dead!  To some, this is what makes it a fairy tale; to others, this is what makes the story powerful.

The conflicts and mysteries to many people are irrelevant to their believing.  Much like whether the virus is a living thing or not, or where it comes from, the facts are it replicate beyond our capacity to stop, and we have to adjust our lives, and the price of not respecting it is possible death.

Whether Pharoah believed Moses or not, because he didn’t adjust, the plagues came and destroyed the economy and killed the first-born.  Taking the initial situation seriously or not, the American, Chinese, German, French, Iranian, every government had to recognize a reality beyond politics: this virus is a king of sorts; bow and do quarantines, or many will die.  Whatever is true or not in the Bible, Christianity started from a small persecuted band of people with little education and no military or economic achievements, and multiplied into the largest faith group in the world, the dominant religion of the great world empires of Spain, Germany, England, Russia and, now, the US.

That makes Jesus, a carpenter’s son, a superstar for the ages. The number of devout can rise or fall; Christianity is a framework of life for many people. (Although for politicians, their main religion is the game of power, money and politics.)  If you don’t make way, the virus will come to you.

In the movie, the people and leaders ask in song, “Jesus Christ, Superstar, Do you think you are what they say you are?” and did not listen to the answer.  Political leaders asked the same question of SARS-CoV-2 — severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 — the virus that causes Covid-19.  “The virus is well controlled in our country, it will pass quickly,” Trump downplayed the reports by China, by his adviser Navarro, by the civilian and military health assessment reports in presidential briefings, by world infection data, all warnings since early and mid-January.  But even the most powerful president in the world cannot disrespect a crowned, “corona” molecule of a virus.

So, two months later, as the infection and death toll rose dramatically in the US, Trump belatedly admitted the need to make major adjustments, and is forced to return budgets that he reduced for disease control agencies, enlarge quarantines instead of belittling them, withhold information he accuses others of doing.  He attacks the World health Organization, tells doctors to keep information confidential, fires US Navy captain Brett Crozier for asking for help for his infected crew, hijacks medical supplies of other countries, blames others but at the same time asks for help from these other countries.  The Trump is himself a force to reckon with!

Unforeseeable?  Major calamities and disruptions of a world scale are reminders from realities that we stopped respecting.  Not predictable with exactness, they are predictable statistically, like this pandemic was predicted to happen by Bill Gates, among others.  The realities we abuse may be those of the need to give and take, leading to war; those of technology, leading to displacement or destruction; those of economics, leading to employment and poverty issues.  Those of nature, lead to environmental, climate and other deviations.  In nature’s perspective, it may be humans that are a disease or virus, consuming resources beyond the earth’s ability to regenerate, killing off species, creating un-recyclable pollution, depleting habitat covers, etc. — not for survival, but for sheer pleasure, or by just not caring.

These cycles of peace and calamity will keep recurring in variations, for they are in the nature of nature, in the nature of humankind, forever retesting limits of “new normals,” of new Edens.

George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, serving as director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and the United States.

New Worlds by IDSI (Integrated Development Studies Institute) aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities and attempt for common good, culture and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (

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