"O Beautiful” also deals with suicide, date rape, gun rights, the founding fathers and, of course, abortion — in a subplot starting with the first scene, in which a pregnant teenager, Alice, seeks counsel from Jesus Christ, who wanders through the high school and characters’ homes without explanation. Jesus, rendered as sympathetic to everyone irrespective of their politics, reaches a provocative conclusion when Alice, who has been raped, asks where in the Bible he opposes abortion.
Alice: Did you ever say, “I’m Jesus, and I say that stupid girls who let guys talk them into going to the back seat of their cars have to have babies?” Did you say that ever?*See comment for another version of this stunning piece of theatre and theology.
Alice: All you talk about is, be nice to each other! You never said nobody’s allowed to have an abortion.
Alice: So can I? Can I? Can I?
Jesus: Honestly, I — I don’t really have an issue with it.*
From the beginning, there has been something about Jesus which creates multiple and competing narratives. Four Gospels. According to.
The one that has such great currency, unsurprisingly, is the non-judgmental Jesus of the Simple Message of Love, Inc. "All you talk about is, be nice to each other!" Basically, as above, Jesus as Hippie. Jesus as Mr. Rogers with a Beard. Which I also read as Jesus as Mommy Disguised In A Male Body.
Funny, too, how everybody's Jesus seems to mirror them. From Constantine's "In Hoc Signo Vinces" Jesus to Thomas Jefferson's "Deist Jesus" to the "Egalitarian Inclusive Anti-Establishment Activists Jesus" so dear to contemporary liberals.
And it's totally BS. If you've ever read the original four "according to" authors.
I do not have my own Jesus, let's say the "Ex Cathedra" Jesus to oppose to them. Except to say this: there is something about Jesus himself that leads to this kind of fragmentation and multiplicity, something about him that provokes quite different and competing images. And, that pretty well all of the above images of Jesus require ignoring or excluding massive amounts of text from the Gospels...to say nothing of Paul's letters, etc. (the earliest of which probably pre-date the first written Gospel text.)
The Jesus that I have the most respect for is --unsurprisingly-- the orthodox Jesus. Why? Because the prior commitments of the orthodox traditions require them to hold together, somehow, all the texts about him. They may not succeed very well sometimes, but they try, in principle.
There was a phrase common in theology in the middle part of the last century, "the Christ-event". Whatever its original intentions, it at least recognized that Christianity is more than a personality cult, about a moral teacher and martyr, that the figure of Jesus was a part of a much larger narrative, a cosmic story that preceded him and to which he gave a new shape as it continued.
I often shake my head at my friend Bill, who is, at best, an agnostic, but who has a kind of humanist hero image of Jesus precisely as a moralist and a martyr. He says that he is a big fan of Jesus, but not of God. When I point out to him that God, precisely as the Father of Jesus, was the ruling obsession of Jesus' life and that his (Bill's) attitude puts him at total odds with Jesus, he just sorta looks at me.
But if you read the Gospel of Mark --or better yet, watch Alec Cowen's one-man play reciting it-- and then work your way through the Gospel of John...well, you might be a bit more forgiving of Bill. As I say, there seems to be something in Jesus which makes for these passionate and very different views of him.
Simple is the last thing he is.