Thursday, March 11, 2004

Reflections on The Passion of Jesus Christ

Many have reviewed this movie, and much of what I would say about the movie itself has been said before. I would like to turn to application, to answer the question, "What about this presentation of Jesus' death makes a difference to Christianity at this time?"

Just as many were astonished at you, My people, So His appearance was marred more than any man And His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand. (Isaiah 52:14-15)

How do you answer the charge about the violence? Of course, we can look at this film and say to ourselves, "Look how much the Father loved me." However, is this all? I do not think so. As I watched, this passage from Hebrews came to mind as a wisdom for connecting the film to practical Christian living:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

The first century Christians knew what crucifixion was. They knew its shame and its torment. Here the writer to the first century Jewish believers tells us that by looking at the manner in which Jesus died, we can grow in courage and press on in difficult times. The Passion of Jesus Christ can perhaps instill a similar courage. The enemies of Christianity are engaged around the world and they will not play fair. As Jesus suffered and returned love, so by the power of the Holy Spirit can we.

So the violence can have a fortifying effect on the Church. It is this that Satan and our enemies have truly feared. Jesus died and suffered for me. I can suffer and die for Him.

The Face of Evil: The characterization of evil in The Passion of Jesus Christ was pure artistic and theological genius. Take the things that warm our hearts: a pretty face, a baby in a mother's arm, and children. Then bend them, shift them, and alter them just a little. In this you create the true face of evil. True evil is never ugly at first. It presents a good face, it speaks logically, and it will move to kill and destroy without scruples. And so Satan is a woman with a man's voice. Demons are children flocking around a possessed man. The baby in the devil's arm is a monster.

The Question of Anti-Semitism: There are two groups of people who make this charge. There are those who use it as a shield for themselves and promote the topic to deter others from seeing the film. There are others who have a genuine concern. I have little to say about the first, I have much to say about the second.

We who are Gentiles have never been called Christ killers. Most of my Jewish friends have. Few of us who are Gentiles know what Martin Luther wrote about the Jews, but many of my Jewish friends do. For us Gentiles, the issue of anti-Semitism in The Passion of Jesus Christ is academic, for the Jews such discussions can make the difference between living and dying. We Christians must understand and accommodate their fears. Here are some practical steps:

  1. Understand what place the Jews have in the Gospel. I have written a series entitled The Jews and the Gospel that addresses this. 
  2. Note the implication of these verses:

The Golden Calf: Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies— then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. He said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.’ ” So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day. (Exodus 32:25-28)

And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:40-41)

At Mount Sinai, 3000 men were executed because of the worship of the Golden Calf. On the day of Pentecost and the inauguration of the New Covenant, 3000 of the Children of Israel were saved.

When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. (Matthew 27:24-26)

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:37-40)

Although certain ones of the Jews called down Jesus' blood on themselves and children, on the day of Pentecost and the inauguration of the New Covenant, the curse was declared null and void.

  1. Be sympathetic to the concern of your Jewish friends. Note, for them, how The Passion shows the cruelty and anti-Semitism of the Roman soldiers against Jesus and Simon of Cyrene. Note, for them, how The Passion shows the efforts of some in the Sanhedrin to defend Jesus that night. 
  2. Understand the history and fact of Christian anti-Semitism, confess it, and repudiate it.

The Random Elements: Most of the extra dialog and depictions in this movie were reasonable and added to the drama and message. However, the scene involving Claudia, Jesus' mother, and Mary Magdalene was about as random as I have seen. That it comes from the writings of one Sister Emmerich makes little difference to me. I have neither a cultural nor a theological grid for the women cleaning up the blood following the scourging, much less how Claudia providing the towels was an act of kindness. The scene, in my view, is a flaw in an otherwise significant screenplay.

Monday: First Timothy

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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