The Passion of the
my review of Mel Gibson's
This brief piece is my tribute to what I think is the greatest thing
that has ever been done with celluloid. Only the day before posting this I
had another young man in my study who had come to debrief with me after
watching this movie. "We wouldn't have had the guts to carry it
through, would we?" was his comment. The movie has polarised people,
certainly, but so did Christ Himself. I do believe that this movie is
something that God is using in our time.
Here we are at then end of Holy week, and I must admit
that the only pilgrimage I've made this Lent was to the theatre to see Mel
Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" again.
I am serious about this though. For me the movie was a religious
experience, though it did leave me with one grave concern.
It wasn't the alleged anti-Semitism that bothered me.
Certainly 'The Passion' depicted Jews as being Jesus' chief
opponents, but it also depicted Jews as being Jesus' greatest friends, and
let's not forget that Jesus Himself was a Jew. I don't think the movie
loses sight of this.
And it wasn't the violence that bothered me.
I heard one radio commentator saying that to actually enjoy the movie
you'd have to be 'a sicko or a religious nut'! This was a bit over
the top, but it reflected the same feeling expressed by a friend of mine
who said that he couldn't understand how anyone could be entertained by
watching someone being tortured for two hours!
Such comments fail to appreciate that for Christians, what is being
portrayed in 'The Passion' is not simply individual human
suffering, but the self-sacrifice of God for humanity! This is the story
we retell every week in the celebration of the Eucharist, so for regular
church-goers the connection is close to our hearts.
No. What bothers me about "The Passion of the Christ" is rather
the extent to which the movie embarrasses the church! For "The Passion"
very accurately portrays the historical Jesus - suffering, bleeding,
and laying down his life for others. And I hate to admit it, but there's
not much in our modern church that resembles this!
Am I being too harsh? Take a look at your average Christian
congregation in Sydney today. You'll likely find a brightly dressed pastor
leading a trim and successful congregation of upwardly mobile families.
The image is one of cleanliness and sophistication - hardly consistent
with the bleeding, tattered and wretched figure portrayed in Gibson's
The movie highlights a credibility gap, similar to the one that
McDonalds struggles with, as it tries to reconcile the bounteous burgers
displayed in its advertisements with the measly meals that emerge from
behind the counter! The Jesus portrayed in 'the Passion' is open and
honest, great-hearted and human, strong and courageous. I don't think we
(the church) have ever been shown up quite so badly!
I don't pretend to understand exactly how it happened that the original
band of rag-tailed disciples ever evolved into what we experience today as
church, but I can see that we sanitized the story of the Passion somewhere
in the process, presumably to make it more acceptable as bedtime reading
for our children. I do know that crosses didn't start out as fashion
accessories, and I do know that the church was once more of a working
class phenomenon, made up of struggling and sorrowful people who
understood Jesus and his path of sorrows better than do we well-educated
and well-healed representatives of the church today.
Somewhere along the line we remodelled Jesus - made him more
respectable, put a suit on him, cleaned up the blood and had him join the
local Rotary club. It was all done with good intent, but in the process we
lost touch with the poor and the weak members of our community - the
'little ones' towards whom Jesus Himself always seemed to
gravitate, like a shepherd in search of His lost sheep.
It is my belief that if we, the church, want to re-establish contact
with those on the underside of our community, we do need to first
reconnect with our crucified Messiah and His via dolores. Perhaps "The
Passion of the Christ" can help us do this?
It is an odd thing to confess that this Easter a movie might be
enunciating the story of Jesus more clearly to the world than is His
church, but it seems strangely characteristic of the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ to choose to work that way. How typical that He should
choose to bypass our grand and wonderful ecclesiastical institutions to
communicate his message to the world through the godless celluloid of
And people say that God has no sense of humour!
This article was first published in The Glebe and Inner Western
Weekly during Easter week 2004