Passion of the Christ: What Shall We Do with This Movie?

The wide-ranging reactions to the film, The Passion of the Christ are eerily reminiscent of how people responded to the historical Jesus: They loved him, they hated him, they misunderstood him, and they falsely accused him. But with the man, as with the movie, nobody seems quite capable of ignoring him. The Passion graphically and unapologetically unmasks the scandal of the cross. This reality is one with which no society throughout history has ever been completely comfortable. Most of us would rather have a sanitized Savior… one who is polite and palatable to the people. The violence depicted in the film is undeniably extreme and way over the edge. While viewing the film I began to resent what I initially deemed a gratuitous level of gore. But slowly I began to understand that for far too long the popular image of Jesus has been so proper, polished and impersonalized. In order for the pendulum of reality to become balanced and centered, we had to see Jesus in a way that gruesomely and graphically pushed our perception way past the middle to the polar opposite extreme.
Is the film anti-Semitic? Even if someone wanted to, absolutely no one – human or inhuman, gentile or Jew – could take “credit” for the death of Jesus. A cursory reading of Jesus’ statement regarding his life and death in John 10:18 should make that clear: “No one takes it from me but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” From the lips of the victim the real one responsible for the death of Jesus was ultimately not the Jews but his Father. This is rightly so, for the only shoulders broad enough to bear the weight of Jesus’ death sentence are those of the One who gives life and resurrection.
A recurrent theme throughout the film version and real life of Jesus is this: unrelenting love even in the face of unrepentant hatred. The life of Jesus is the very embodiment of what it means to forgive. The concept of forgiveness almost seems like an ancient, misplaced relic in light of the “progressive” concepts espoused by contemporary modernity. Yet even in the midst our advancement, we continue to witness rampant displays of “man’s inhumanity to man” (and woman). Surely all sectors of our sophisticated society from the White House to my house could use a strong dose of pure, unadulterated forgiveness -Jesus style.
At the close of the film, I was initially unable to move. The impact of the film made an indelible impression on my mind and heart. Upon walking into the main theatre lobby, I was immediately bombarded with advertisements for arcade games, popcorn and various substance-less films “now playing” or “coming soon”. It all seemed so empty and utterly insignificant in comparison to the depiction and reality of Christ’s sacrificial suffering. Not everyone can or will understand why others are so personally moved, disturbed, altered and affected by the Passion experience. To borrow a concept from Pilates’s wife in the film: Truth cannot be explained to you. You will have to experience truth for yourself and then when you hear it, you will know.
Editor’s Note: Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” opened on over 4000 screens on Wednesday, February 25, the most ever for an independent movie. The film debuted the same day in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and will debut on March 26 in Britain and Ireland. It is already setting records. On the first day it took in $26.6 million and should clear $70 million within the first full week of its release. You can send Gibson encouragement at Thanks, Mel.

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