on The Passion of the Christ
to Watch The
Passion of the Christ
the Curtain Falls
to Watch The
Passion of the Christ
for those who have not yet
seen the movie
by Lowell Grisham
seems a bit silly to write about Mel Gibson's movie without
having seen it. But the movie became a cultural event
even prior to its release, and opinions about it are
a dime a dozen. Since explorefaith.org is free, I'll
give you my ten-cents worth.
was impressed by Mel Gibson's passion in his interview
with Diane Sawyer. He has had a transforming spiritual
experience that led him out of a materialistic soul-sucking
lifestyle and into a satisfying spiritual practice and
a fulfilling family life. I applaud that.
expect to be deeply moved by The Passion. One
thing it will do is witness to the vicious cruelty of
crucifixion, which has been too domesticated by our jewelry
and art. The cross was exceedingly ugly. That's real.
brings his or her own interpretations of Jesus to a movie
like this. In some way, it's like reading the Bible.
Everyone is an interpreter. Even people who claim to
be literalists bring a theology to their reading, whether
they admit it or not. It helps if people are clear about
their presumptions on the front end.
we accept this film as Mel Gibson's preaching, his witness,
that is fine. He has a theological place to stand. But
to jump to the conclusion that he has filmed history
is too far to go. It's like the Biblical literalist's
error of reading scripture as though it were a newspaper.
The Bible is “poetry plus, not history minus.”
is the Christian doctrine of the cross -- Why did Jesus
die? What did his death accomplish? There are a lot of
versions of the Atonement doctrine in Christian history.
I don't like some of Mel Gibson's theology. I already
know that. The “substitutionary blood sacrifice” version
of the atonement is the least compelling theological
explanation of the cross for me. That's what Mel believes.
I don't have space to go into that here, but let me describe
where my heart will be as I watch the violence of Jesus'
crucifixion on the screen.
me, the suffering of Jesus is a sacrament of the love
of God. The story tells us that God willingly soaks up
all of our systemic injustice, personal evil and violence
and returns only love.
predominant ethos of Jesus is compassion. And here's
where the use of Latin actually comes in handy. Cum ,
meaning “with,” and passio , meaning “to suffer;
to feel deeply.” Compassion = “to feel and
suffer deeply with.” It is a visceral word. Biblically
it is associated with the kind of feeling that comes
from the womb or from the bowels, and so we have that
odd biblical expression of Jesus that “his bowels were
moved with compassion.” (John 11:33, 38) Jesus reveals
a God whose love for us is deep and womb-like, like the
love a mother has for the child of her womb.
God is no distant deity in some pure heaven far away.
God is with us on earth in our horror, our terror, our
violence, and our suffering. God refuses to add to the
evil and violence, but instead responds with vulnerable,
compassionate love. That's how God wins. The resurrection
of Jesus proclaims that love is more powerful than hate,
compassion triumphs over oppression, and vulnerability
overcomes power. Jesus invites us to put our trust in
God, even in the face of horror, oppression, cruelty
and death. God is with us. God feels and suffers deeply
with us. And, what God does best is to bring life out
how I'm going to watch this movie. And you don't have
to be a Christian to watch it that way. Every enduring
religion places compassion at its center and witnesses
to a path of transformation from death to life. So Christians,
back off from the triumphalism and conversion stuff.
Lead with your strength. Jesus shows us a way of compassionate,
courageous love. That's something for the healing of
the planet, not its division.
Copyright ©2004 Lowell Grisham
the Curtain Falls
on a Misguided Creation
by Lowell Grisham
don’t know if Mel Gibson’s Passion will
inspire people to become Christians, but it certainly
is a compelling promotional piece for Amnesty International
and the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
packed my pockets with Kleenex and entered the theatre
prepared to be deeply moved by the story that is so close
to my heart. When the movie ended, I took my dry tissues
unused out of my pocket and left with a sad sense of
disappointment. Maybe my expectations were too high,
but I found I could never deeply enter the drama;I was
distracted by its main character – not Jesus – but
director Mel Gibson.
and over again, I found myself yanked out of the narrative
by the quirky choices Gibson made. He souped together
a mixture of legend, non-historical literalisms, artistic
fantasy, and the four canonical stories to create something
that I could accept as one person’s witness --
but it came off as a very peculiar witness indeed.
Everyone interprets art individually. Mel’s Passion is art,
not history. He takes a lot of artistic license. Unfortunately, I was more
distracted than moved by most of Gibson’s artistic flourishes. The “Satan” figure
just seemed stupid to me. And the snake? …mel-o-dramatic. (Oh, I caught
the reference to Genesis 3:15.) The guards were like cartoonish Orcs, better
suited to the Lord of the Rings. And what was that ugly baby about?
kept asking, “Why?” Why did Mel do that?
Why have Jesus knocked off the bridge to land suspended
at eye level with Judas? Why the bit with Pilate’s
wife trembling, offering towels to the two Marys, and
then the two women wiping up blood from the scourging
site? Why perpetuate the mis-identification of Mary Magdalene
with the woman accused of adultery? Why the gang of crazed
kids chasing Judas? Why the earthquake that splits not
the curtain but the Temple itself? Why the queasy Pilate
and the effeminate Herod? For me these were embellishments
that were more distracting than enhancing.
troubling was Gibson’s consistent choice to interpret
Jewish involvement in its worst possible light. Now some
of the blame has to rest on Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Writing 35 to 60 years after the events, the authors
of our gospels knew that open criticism of Roman policy
was dangerous. And the Jesus movement had created close
conflict within Judaism, resulting in the eventual ousting
of Christians from the synagogues. So it was convenient
and even wise to focus early-Christian polemic upon Jewish
leadership while using coded symbolic language for any
strong critique toward Rome, as in the book of the Revelation.
historians tell us that the Roman authorities were responsible
for Jesus’ execution. It was a political killing.
The very small group of Jewish elites who cooperated
regularly with Roman rule was willing to conspire with
them against Jesus since he had challenged their authority
and domination as well as the economic interests of their
Temple-sacrifice monopoly. But picturing a dominant Sanhedrin
intimidating a cowed Pilate is just bad history. It also
feeds into a subsequent history of tragic anti-Semitism.
Shame on Mel for perpetuating such wrongs. It would have
been easy for him to be more accurate.
I could overlook the distractions, I was moved and horrified
by the graphic scenes of torture. In a way, I was glad
to see the brutality of the crucifixion as a corrective
to the way we have domesticated the cross. I had a parishioner
who once wore an electric-chair necklace charm as her
way of challenging our ease with such a cruel symbol.
film is a reminder that cruel people and governments
still practice barbarism. My annual renewal from Amnesty
International arrived last week while the images of Jesus’ beatings
were fresh in my mind. I quickly renewed my support of
the planet’s strongest voice against such tortures.
Witnessing the legal and religious proceedings that conspired
to condemn Jesus was a stark reminder that our own judicial
systems are also imperfect. Imperfect systems should
never have the ultimate power to impose the death penalty.
Jesus was not the last innocent person to be executed
by the state.
glad Mel Gibson filmed his interpretation of Jesus’ passion.
It has opened up interest for important conversations.
I’m happy for my friends who found it moving and
compelling. But it’s not the way I would have directed
such a film. And maybe Mel has done us all a great service.
How would each of us have directed our film to witness
to the most important thing in our lives? That’s
worth thinking about.