Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 5, 2004
Jesus promises eternal life
There is no way around it. The Passion of the Christ will dominate the imaginations of the tens of thousands of Catholics who have seen the movie when they listen to the reading of St. John's Passion during this year's Good Friday service. The images of Mel Gibson's brutal dramatization have been seared into our minds.
What will be so striking in hearing the Passion is how perfunctory John is about events on which Gibson elaborated in such great detail. The Gospel is matter of fact compared with the intensity of the movie.
Among other things, on Good Friday, we will hear:
Most of these incidents are mentioned to some degree in the synoptic Gospels, mainly Matthew, but not in John's - the account the Church offers to us in the Good Friday liturgy. On top of that, Gibson's movie has many scenes with no basis in any scriptural account.
None of this means Gibson's movie is invalid. In fact, his elaborations on the text make this an almost explicitly Catholic movie. Gibson's film has its own Marian piety, something a movie could not do by restricting itself to repeating the two verses of the Gospel related to this topic. The Church has not restricted itself to those two verses either. Its tradition contains an enormous edifice of theology and piety built on these two verses, John 19:26-27 - "Behold your son, . . . Behold your mother."
Likewise, like John's Gospel, The Passion of the Christ is Eucharistic in its interpretation of Christ's life and death. John's Gospel weaves this theme through its 21 chapters. In the movie, the theme becomes central through the timely use of flashbacks and through fictionalized scenes such as one where Mary and Mary Magdalene wipe up the blood in the square where Jesus was scourged.
Movies such as Garth Drabinsky's Gospel of John and Franco Zefferelli's Jesus of Nazareth hold closer to the Gospel text. But they are far less powerful, less challenging movies.
In Gibson's Passion, Jesus, mangled flesh and all, practically comes out of the screen at us. We are made to see the suffering Jesus underwent for us and that Mary's faith calls us to a response of humble faith and loving action.
But what does John's Gospel tell us that Gibson's movie does not? One important thing - the promise of salvation. That theme flows through John's Gospel like an underground stream. Oddly, it does not surface with great evidence in his account of the Passion.
But it is in John's Gospel alone that we have Christ's words to Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (3:16).
Here is the central promise of our faith. It is in the context of this promise, this divine love, that the sacrifice of the cross makes sense. It is our hope of salvation. And when we listen to the Gospel on Good Friday, our hearts need to know that all is not lost. We have the promise of eternal life, a life which Christ's suffering, death and resurrection has made possible for all.
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