The Passion of the Christ
my review of Mel Gibson's movie

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 movie.

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 Hollywood.

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

Rev. David B. Smith
(the 'Fighting Father')

Parish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of three

Fighting Father Dave

Get a free preview copy of Dave's book,Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist when you sign up for his free newsletterat