The film “The Passion of the Christ” has become an event-movie, much
like a hot Hollywood franchise (eg: Star Wars, The Matrix, Lord of the
Rings). As such, I can’t wait for the sequel (I’ll explain in a second).
Many viewers at the showing I attended last week were the devout, like the
elderly ladies in wheelchairs with oxygen tanks and masks. They probably
don’t go to the movies as much as I do, and this movie was an event that they could not resist. Other viewers were the curious, people that are trying to
measure their strong stomachs against 2 hours of purported blood-letting and
torture. Finally, there were the skeptics. It’s all over the news that this movie
is a piece of anti-semitic propaganda, made injudiciously at best, or maliciously
at worst. That final group of viewers were here to verify for themselves
the truth of these charges.
I count myself among all three groups: as a devout Christian, I needed to
experience viscerally the pain that my Lord underwent in order to assure my
salvation. This is part of my faith and belief, and I live my life accordingly.
I am also among the curious. I was interested in finding out if I could view
the movie as a critic and disengage myself from the horrors that were being
carried out on the screen. Finally, I was intent in finding out if the charges
of anti-semitism brought against the movie and its makers held (holy?) water.
I mentioned that I can’t wait for the sequel, so you can guess that I found
the movie to be a positive experience. This may be hard to understand for those that say that two hours of sadistic beatings, bloody flagellation and frank
depictions of crucifixion cannot result in any good. And yet, as a Christian, it was a good experience. To understand my opinion, I have to give you the 20-word description of Christianity: Man gave up a relationship with God when he disobeyed (sinned) in the Garden of Eden; God set up a plan to sacrifice His Son in human form; by accepting that sacrifice Man can again establish
a relationship with God and avoid eternal punishment. It is important to understand this definition of Christianity, because it exonerates the Jewish people from guilt, as I will explain shortly.
If I want to connect with God, I must accept that the death of Christ was
necessary. God Himself established the ritual of sacrifice to cleanse from sin; He did this when He created the nation of Israel and gave His people the responsibility of sacrificing to Him. How fitting that the nation of Israel carried out God’s command to sacrifice His Son; this is totally proper. Ancient Israel would choose one priest to carry out a sacrifice to cleanse the nation every year. God chose the priesthood of Israel to carry out “The Sacrifice” which would cleanse Humanity for all time. This is why there is no validity to the charge that “the Jews killed Christ.” They were merely the priests
that carried out the sacrifice in God’s plan and for *our* benefit and
that of Man. That this sacrifice was sadistic and graphic, you can blame on the Romans.
Yes, the Romans were a noble people and created a great civilization which
endures even to our day, in our law and in our government. They were also vicious conquerors who knew the value of terror in keeping the peace throughout the land. This is why they perfected the ultimate, most painful execution method: crucifixion. The flagellation and fatal punishment inflicted on Jesus was portrayed accurately in the movie. There is no sugar-coating the fact that Roman torturers and executioners were professional sadists that did their job well. The movie did not portray this painful process in order to inflame the masses; it depicts realistically what was probably a common sight during
those barbarous times. A visit to a modern slaughterhouse is an intense
experience, but we all accept that it is a necessary institution if we wish to continue eating hamburgers at McDonald’s. In the same way, I accept that the brutal treatment of Jesus as depicted in the movie serves a purpose. The casual or curious movie goer may find that attending this “movie event” has a cost, in shed blood and sweat and tears.
Finally, is there an anti-semitic conspiracy? Did Mel Gibson package this film as a
diatribe against the Jewish people? Hardly. There were many omissions in the film: the apostles are seen infrequently, Jesus’s friends in the Jewish Sanhedrin
are seen only in passing, the Resurrection is a shortened epilogue. There are also many intrusions: the satanic, androgynous being that watches the proceedings, the feral children that torment Judas, the background story given to Pontious Pilate — a total artifice. In some cases, these changes showed the Romans in a favorable light, others painted the Jewish authorities in a disfavorable light. Do these changes show a bias from the film-maker? Not an issue.
This film is really Mel Gibson’s vision, bias and all. He focused solely on the suffering of Christ, and to this end he added or deleted to the Gospel accounts. To his credit, he has made a film that holds up to the Gospels, which do not paint the Jewish authorities favorably. But most of the New Testament continues in this vein, painting the authorities very poorly. Jesus himself called the authorities of the day “white-washed tombs” (hypocrites). That’s OK, the Jewish authorities do not represent the Jewish people. Most of the protagonists of
this movie, and the characters in the New Testament, are Jews. The Bible upholds the Jewish people’s favored position in God’s plan. Does Mel Gibson need to show a balanced view of the Jewish authorities? No. In the same way that he chose not to show more of Jesus’ friends and followers, showing the ‘good’ Jewish authorities is not required to convey the central theme of the movie, which is the suffering of The Christ. I found the portrayal of the Jewish authorities to be reserved, in a way.The Gospel accounts of The Passion actually contain a few other incidents which would have painted the Jewish priesthood
as even more petty and cruel; Mel Gibson chose not to show those incidents.
He did choose to focus on the Cananean that helped Jesus to carry the cross; that person was a Jew. I cannot see “The Passion” inflaming minds any more than “Schindler’s List” did. I don’t hate the German people after watching the latter film, even though that director did not show any sympathetic Nazis in the lot.
To summarize, it was a great movie, and I hope Mel Gibson makes a sequel.
The final scene shows a nice, stylized version of the resurrection and leaves me wanting for more. Will “The Passion of The Christ” lead to clamoring for “The Life of The Christ” prequel? I can only hope and pray