Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 8, 2004
The Passion challenges all of us
One striking feature of the reviews of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is that those in secular newspapers have been universally negative while those written by avowed Christians have tended to be positive. The obvious conclusion: The movie needs to be seen through the eyes of faith.
To the secular reviewer the movie is a two-hour gorefest acted out by cardboard characters. The believer comes to the film with an awareness of what all this violence means and will find fodder for meditation on the Passion. And while the Jewish and Roman characters are overly one-dimensional, there is much to reflect on in those such as Mary and Simon of Cyrene.
This is not a film that will lead non-believers to the Christian faith. But it may well lead Christians to take the faith they do have a lot more seriously. All those antiseptic images of Jesus' death we may have had since childhood will be visually overwhelmed and replaced by a more gruesome reality. Having been visually assaulted by this film will make it harder for one to have a faith that is neat and pretty and conventional. This Jesus we believe in died for our sins and his manner of death was most horrific.
What does that horror mean for our faith?
The question is answered to some extent by Simon of Cyrene, the uninvolved bystander who, against his will, is dragged into helping Jesus carry the cross. Yet Simon comes to be awed by Jesus and soon finds the strength to speak out against the brutality of the Romans. By the time he reaches Golgotha, Simon is a man transformed. The passive bystander has become the committed disciple.
It is in Mary that discipleship is seen at its clearest. In the seemingly endless scourging scene, she is physically staggered by the torture her son undergoes. But she forces herself not to look away: To watch and to play her role in the Passion.
As Jesus makes his way down the Via Dolorosa, Mary and Satan silently stare each other down from opposite sides of the way.
Then, Jesus collapses, the enormous cross falling on him. Mary watches and - remembering an incident from his childhood when he fell and she ran to help him - rushes to his side to again provide comfort.
As Jesus hangs on the cross, Mary comes forward to kiss his blood-drenched feet and steps back with his blood on her face.
Finally, when the body is brought down from the cross, Mary holds it, looking at the viewer as if to ask, "Where do you stand?"
This is the key question Jesus' Passion should elicit. How will you comfort the suffering? Will you allow your face to be smeared with the blood flowing from the cross? Will you cover your eyes as Christ is crucified in today's suffering millions? Or, will you, like Simon, help carry the cross and speak out against injustice?
It is in this context that one needs to view the movie's alleged anti-Semitism. There is little question that the Jewish leaders, backed up by an angry mob, are portrayed as coldly lusting for Jesus' execution. But if anyone comes out of the theatre with a hatred of Jews, they have badly missed the point.
The point being not what some Jews (and Romans) did 2,000 years ago, but what you, the viewer will do today. And for the rest of your life.
The Passion of the Christ is not the Gospel, but rather one man's meditation on part of the Gospel.
Like the Gospel, it does not campaign for violence or anti-Semitism, but rather asks one to "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
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