This weekend I took my 12-year-old daughter to see Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. And I have to say that I just don’t get it.
I mean, I get that Justin is cute–if you’re twelve. And I get that he has a good singing voice. And I get that he has a pretty amazing stage presence. But I just don’t get all those girls screaming and crying because they saw him in person. All those young women vowing they are going to marry him.
The movie got me thinking about the whole phenomenon of celebrity. Which of course got me thinking about Jesus as celebrity.
Granted, celebrity in first century Palestine was surely not what it is in the United States in the 21st Century. No movie deals. No fans sending e-mails or text messages. Jesus never got his picture on the cover of a magazine. Still, I imagine Jesus’ personal appearances has that celebrity feel.
Remember when the woman with the flow of blood touches the hem of Jesus’ robe? (Luke 8:43) Jesus asks who touched him and Peter says, “Everyone is crowding around and pressing against you.”
And there are the crowds of 4,000 and 5,000 men. Who knows how many women and children. That’s a lot of people. And there are the crowds that keep following Jesus around. Sometimes he is so worn out that he tries to get away from the crowds and rest–but his obsessed fans find him. A keyword search for the term “crowd” in the Gospels (on Biblegateway, NIV) yields 127 results.
It seems Jesus was a popular guy. He must have been charismatic. He was certainly interesting. And he told great stories. This whole Jesus-as-celebrity phenomenon is captured quite well in the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice Musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. (“So you say you’re the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ. Prove to me that you’re no fool. Walk across my swimming pool.”)
And there are some movements today that present this flashy, splashy, Jesus. The Jesus of hip, glossy brochures. The Jesus of laser lights and packed auditoriums and million-dollar book deals.
The thing about Jesus as celebrity, though, is that it lets us become mere fans. We can cheer for him and get excited about him–even talk about how we will commit the rest of our lives to him. But as soon as he says or does something we don’t like, we quit reading his tweets. As soon as someone comes along who is cuter, whose songs we like better, we simply switch over our fan club membership.
The four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and burial differ in many ways. But in every version of the story, the crowds disappear. The fans go home. Only the true disciples are left. (O.K. Some of them are gone too–for awhile.)
There are times when I look back at my youthful enthusiasm for Jesus and feel like I am missing something today. I no longer have T-Shirts and pencils with “Jesus” on them. I don’t listen to as much “Jesus” music or go to concerts where people scream about Jesus. I don’t get the same “Jesus goosebumps” I used to get when I was at camp or youth conventions. I have wondered if I am loosing some of my love for Jesus.
But I think, I pray, that my love for Jesus is actually growing. By God’s grace, I hope I am transforming from a fan into a disciple.
I hope that Jesus, for me, is no longer a mere celebrity. He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16)