Two views of ‘The Passion of the Christ’
“The Passion of the Christ” is Mel Gibson and friends’ interpretation of the Gospels and Pauline material. It represents a very conservative and fundamentalist interpretation that has gone on for time immemorial. This movie becomes a “passion play” that stands to threaten Christian-Jewish relations, because it is a very narrow and personal view of an historical event which has affected all humankind.Gibson, et al., choose not to deal with the universal influences of the life of Jesus, but with the particulars, which are enshrouded in the mystery of history. Gibson deals with the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus and is sadistic in his expression of the sufferings of the last moments of his life. He places the blame on a group of Jews who are appealing for the favor of Imperial Rome and takes the blame away from Imperial Rome and its appointed leaders like Pontius Pilate. This represents a very different view of history.Gibson has created a modern “passion play” through the mass medium of film and the consequences to understanding could be severe. The feelings of anti-Semitism that it produces will be misunderstood and will cause much unrest among Jewish and non-Jewish people. The film will be suffered through by millions of people and the millions of dollars which Gibson invested will be well returned. The aftereffects of universal response will bring back the haunting memories of the anti-Jewish feeling of the Gospels and New Testament material that many scholars believe is the essence of the history of anti-Semitism.All these feelings will be expressed once again in a world that needs no additional religious hard feelings. Gibson has done us an expensive and unnecessary disservice in his new interpretation of an ancient and mysterious occurrence.The only virtue and positive influence of this fiasco, the appearance of a modernly expressed and perpetrated “passion play,” is that hopefully people will talk to each other about this expression of history and we will come to a better understanding as thinking and loving human beings in the true way Jesus wanted it for all humankind. Then everyone will benefit: People will come together to talk about the great teachings of Jesus the person and preserve life for all peoples and Gibson et al. will make back the money they invested in making the film.Happy endings to all for a poor depiction of history by a questionable character in the first place!Rabbi Bogage is currently University Rabbi/Director of Jewish Life at Depauw University.A moving experience, an opportunity for greater good”The Passion of the Christ” is one of those rare films that almost everyone has a strong opinion about, even if they haven’t seen it.St. Patrick’s Catholic Church hosted a group of about 60 of our high school youth and parents to experience the movie on Sunday evening, February 29. After the movie, we met, courtesy of Colorado Mountain College, to discuss the movie. Initially, there seemed to be a sense of not having words to describe the experience. I use the word “experience” to describe the movie in the same sense Paul Harvey used it in his review of the movie. He said it was not just to be seen but to be experienced.Most of the people were very deeply touched by the movie. It was literally a religious experience for them. I think a practicing Christian will be moved very deeply by the sense of the depth of love Jesus has for us to undergo such agony and death. I believe that was Mel Gibson’s major purpose in the movie, and I think he hopes it will be a moment of conversion, even for practicing Christians.I want to relate my own personal reaction. I didn’t experience as emotional a reaction as I was expecting. After reading other reviews of the movie, many by non-Christians, I would agree with the observation that there wasn’t enough bonding between the viewer and the Jesus character before being thrust almost immediately into the scourging. When they began to show the flashbacks to Jesus’ life before Calvary, I began to connect more to the character. I don’t mean to say that it wasn’t a prayerful experience for me, but it was a more intellectual prayer, rather than emotional for me.Many of us who saw it were surprised by the artistry of the movie, the angles of the camera, the use of strong imagery to depict issues of good and bad, of love and weakness and betrayal. The music was very fitting, and the use of the Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles worked very well. I think this movie will remain with our group as a challenging Lenten meditation.Because of the controversy leading up to the release of the film, I asked our group if they felt the movie was anti-Semitic. No one thought so. In fact, the “bad guys” of the movie were a few sadistic Roman soldiers. I realize that many of our Jewish brothers and sisters are fearful of this movie leading to a reawakening of anti-Jewish feelings of blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus. The film makes it very clear that Jesus made a free choice to offer his life for the redemption of the world, to “make all things new.” This is the basis of our Christian belief.Yes, there is a small risk that some ill-informed Christians may come away with anti-Jewish feelings. But there is an opportunity for much greater good of ordinary Christians experiencing something that will make them better Christians, better lovers of neighbor, and better respecters of God’s unimaginable love for all humanity.Perhaps it will also make us better respecters of God’s choice of our Jewish brothers and sisters as the bearers of God’s love into the world through their brother Jesus.Fr. Frank Maroney is pastor of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Minturn, with missions at the Vail Interfaith Chapel and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Red Cliff.
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