Friday, June 18, 2004

My take on the Passion

by Nick France

March, 2004
By now you’ve probably read just about every article and review of Mel Gibsons’ The Passion of the Christ, including the review of the rough cut screening I published on our web site some ten months ago, back in June of 2003, by Barbara R. Nicolosi. Never before has a movie stirred up so much controversy for such a long period of time. The much-anticipated release on Ash Wednesday has proved to be well received. In less than two weeks the movie grossed over 200 million dollars with projections reaching over one and one half billion dollars worldwide.

I saw the movie in a pre-screening the Monday before Ash Wednesday and then again the following Sunday when my wife and I took our oldest daughter to see it. So I saw it twice, and that’s the point I’d like to make about this movie. This is one of those movies that because of its content, you know you’re witnessing something extremely unique and special. Never before has a biblical epic been produced, marketed or distributed like this.

This was the most moving, riveting, visual and intellectual experience in a movie theater I have ever had. And then the second time I saw it, it was the most moving, riveting, visual and emotional experience in a movie theater I have ever had. My point is that the second time was some what different from the first. But how could the same movie have such a profoundly different affect on me the second time around?

Well, the first time, I was in awe of the whole visual experience and had to intellectually digest this epic. This is after all, the single most important event in the history of mankind. And you feel as though you have a ringside seat. Your mind and thoughts are working so rapidly that you hardly have a moment to feel anything. At least that’s the way I saw it.

The second time however, was totally different. The second time around I really felt it, emotionally. I had already thought it through from the first viewing. In fact, I had almost a week to think about it. The second time I just engrossed myself in the emotional sea of the personal sacrifice that Jesus freely made for my salvation my sins, which caused Him to take up the cross. And feel I did– I felt every emotion in the book– I wore them on my sleeve and didn’t care who saw me do so. I wept uncontrollably. I was so connected to the love that Jesus has for me and how he suffered for my salvation. I kept thinking how sorry I was for being such a sinner, and could He ever forgive me?

This is a movie you have to see twice before you can truly understand it, once for the head and once for the heart. So if you’ve only seen it once… or if you haven’t seen it at all, see it twice before you think you’ve seen it for all its worth.

As a Christian, I had pre-conceived notions about this movie and I pretty much knew I was going to love it. But what about others, how would they see it? What about all the controversy surrounding the movie, what about all the claims of anti-Semitism?

The "root" for some of the recent claims of anti-Semitism surrounding the accounts of the "Passion," seems to be centralized around one specific line in the Bible. And certain leaders of the Jewish community have been quick to draw attention to this line. But why draw attention to specific content, if your goal is to divert attention to its significance? So, in an effort to address this issue, let me say this; removing the line 'His blood be upon us and our children.' (Matthew 27:25) brought to light, this content, more so than by leaving it in and leaving it alone. This is part of Matthew’s’ Gospel– should we "tone down" or "tune out " scripture? I would certainly say no, never, but in this case, we know that corporate responsibility is not on the generations that followed those of first century Judea, present at the Passion of Christ, but rather those who were in-fact present that Good Friday.

While it may be true that some in the crowd desired to have their descendants bear the guilt for Jesus’ death, their wish was not commanding. They did not have the controlling force, and simply wishing did not make it absolute. Those who were present, and pressed for His death were responsible. Or were they? Certainly those of later generations were not– unless you position it in the scope of all mankind being responsible collectively. The sins of all made it necessary for God to invoke His redemptive plan of salvation. But are we really responsible?

To understand this concept fully, we must go back to Genesis, chapter 3 (The Fall of Man). This chapter is present throughout the movie, throughout the Gospel accounts of the Passion and central to the need of redemption itself. Adam and Eve committed "original sin," called "original" because it occurred at the origin of the human race. They incurred the guilt for that sin– not us. We have been burdened with, not the guilt, but rather the consequences of their sin. Similarly, with the "Passion," the Jews who called for the death of Christ on Good Friday, incurred guilt for their participation, along with the Romans of course– their descendants did not. Let me literally spell it out, once and for all, only those who instigated His death on Good Friday, bear direct personal guilt. His blood was upon them –not their children.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that unfortunately their (the Jews) children, or offspring have been saddled with their consequences. See the parallel? While it is true that Jews have been brutally persecuted over the centuries in the name of Christ, mostly due to the actions, from those who interpreted the Gospel accounts of the Passion and specifically Passion Plays, I have not seen evidence of this in recent times.

Which brings me back to the question; why draw attention to specific content if your goal is to divert attention to its significance? I would guess fear… fear it would spring hatred and violence. Violence to an undeserving group who have endured some of the worst treatment to man in the history of mankind. Can we blame them? I think not.

I can say though, that bringing attention to this has certainly caused quite a stir of controversy and discussion in the world. I know that I, for one, did not see this as an issue to be concerned with until the subject was raised. I was not thinking, nor have I ever before, thought of any ill will or casting blame for Jesus’ death on the Jews. I conscientiously knew, despite the historic label the Jews had of "Christ Killers" that it was God’s plan and we are all culpable.

I also don’t believe this was all a devious plan by Mel Gibson to start a swell of hatred simply to promote his movie. Jewish leaders cast the first stone, so-to-speak. I prayed that this movie would not be a catalyst for anti-Semitism and continue to do so. I can also say with much delight that thus far my prayers and the prayers of like-minded others, have been fruitful. I know of no hate crimes committed as a direct result of the release of The Passion of the Christ.

My hope is that this movie not only brings all Christians together, which it has, (Evangelical Christians have embraced this movie) but that it also reconciles the strained relations between Christians and Jews. I have a profound respect for our Jewish friends, as they are our elder brothers. And as Pope John Paul II has said, "They are the people who gave Jesus Christ to mankind." Jesus was a Jew, all his Apostles were Jewish, Mary his Mother, Mary Magdalene and thousands of his followers were Jews. So how can we have nothing but love for the Jewish people?

Mel Gibson clearly takes artistic license with some scenes in the movie, but was it the Gospel according to Mel? I don’t think so; this was the Passion, as I’ve always known it to be. Nothing, in my opinion detracted from the overall story. It was the Stations of the Cross in Technicolor. This movie accomplished for me, exactly what I had hoped it would. I now have a visual of the Passion that I can draw on each time I feel the need to remind myself of the pain I inflict on Jesus as I try to refrain from sinning against Him. †

But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. (Isaiah, 53:5)

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