Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 3, 2004
Gibson's Passion gave a wake-up call
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
What Gibson does by so excessively highlighting Jesus' physical suffering, . . . is weaken, deaden really, Jesus' religious and moral triumph.
More critically: Gibson chooses to emphasize, to the point of imbalance, the physical sufferings of Jesus. The Gospel writers don't do this, but emphasize instead the emotional and moral loneliness of Jesus. In the Gospels, Jesus' primary sufferings have to do with being betrayed, misunderstood, alone and humiliated. Indeed in several accounts of the Passion, the physical suffering of Jesus is expressed in a single line: "And they led him away and crucified him."
What Gibson does by so excessively highlighting Jesus' physical suffering, particularly the lashes (which go on and on, far beyond where any human being would have been able to absorb them), is weaken, deaden really, Jesus' religious and moral triumph. By the time Jesus says: "Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing," he is so beaten-up and rendered so half-human that his words don't pack much punch and they issue more from the mouth of a physical than a spiritual athlete.
Had the hero of Elephant Man spoken those words at the end of his story, they would have been more powerful than the words that Jesus utters at the end of Gibson's movie. By emphasizing so much Jesus' physical struggle, Gibson is partly unable to show us the real depth of Jesus' moral and religious struggle.
Though the excessiveness of the physical suffering, particularly of the lashes, is his main point. The lashes represent sin and Jesus' incredible capacity for endurance represents his willingness to absorb and forgive them.
Watching The Passion of the Christ and seeing its impact among popular audiences, one is reminded of something Malcolm X said when he left his Christian roots to embrace Islam. He said that, while he personally preferred Jesus' gentler message of love, he guessed that, given the times, the harder discipline of Allah was more useful in his work among people in the ghettos because they found themselves such a long ways from the experience of order, love and peace. The gentler Gospel of Jesus, he felt, could play a deeper role later on, after the ground is cleared by a harsher initial approach.
Gibson has a similar intuition about our culture. In an age obsessed with reality TV, entertainment as an anesthetic, and which thinks The Da Vinci Code carries theological depth, perhaps this portrayal of Jesus is a wake-up call. A wake-up call isn't intended to be deep; it's intended to rouse you from sleep.
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