Ecce homo – I finally saw “The Passion of the Christ” on Saturday. I remember when I first heard that Mel Gibson was making a movie based on the Passion, that it was going to be in Aramaic and Latin, and that there were not going to be any subtitles. ‘Well,’ I thought. ‘Mel has finally lost it. I guess four Lethal Weapon movies will do that to a man.’
The movie was highly anticipated by Christians around the globe, and after it came out I heard a variety of opinions about it. There were those, of course, for whom the movie was the best thing since unleavened bread. Then there was the unfortunate but expected outcry over the movie’s alleged anti-Semitism. I even heard conspiracy theories from radical Protestants—for whom “devout Roman Catholic” equals “idol worshipper” equals “tool of Satan”—claiming that the movie was merely an attempt to depict and glorify a pagan mother goddess in the character of Mary.
I also heard a number of more personal grievances: that it was too bloody, that it didn’t deal enough with Jesus’ teaching and ministry, or that Christ’s resurrection was not depicted clearly enough. Strangely enough, the more I heard, the more reluctant I was to see the movie. Not that I thought it would be a horrible film, or that it would offend my sensibilities. To be honest, I can’t really tell you why I was reluctant to go see it. Most Christians I know considered it almost a matter of duty to go see the film, as if sitting in a theater for a little under two hours was somehow an act of worship. Maybe it was my natural aversion to bandwagons—or maybe deep down I was afraid that it would affect me too much.
Whatever the case, we did finally go to see the movie, and I should start out by saying that I was surprised. I would normally say “pleasantly surprised,” but I don’t think I can describe my reaction to the movie as in any way pleasant. Nonetheless, I felt positively about it. Yes, it was bloody, but when you consider how blood and gore is splattered on the screen in many Hollywood films, I don’t think it was all that bad. In fact, I would have to say that it was the first movie I’ve ever seen where the blood was completely justified. Still, I think the movie was too graphic for children, and when I hear about Christians taking their young children to go see this movie I want to smack them (the parents, that is, not the children—they’ve been traumatized enough).
I don’t feel the need to address the issue of anti-Semitism, because no matter what I say it’s not going to make a difference to someone who feels that this movie is anti-Semitic. I also don’t feel the need to address the raving lunatics who feel that Mel Gibson is the Anti-Christ. It just strikes me as very odd that people are spending so much energy focusing on what they perceive as the negative aspects of the film, and I would like to avoid doing that myself today.
I will admit that I was quite melancholy for the rest of the day after seeing the film. My emotions ranged from depression to anger as I tried to grapple with what I had experienced. I tried several times to write this entry on Saturday, but I realized after the third try that it was just not possible. I needed more time. A day or so may not seem like much, but it’s amazing how much of a difference sleeping on something can make.
My interpretation of the movie is, of course, colored by the fact that I am a Christian, and I believe that the events depicted on the screen are a representation of historical events. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for our sins, and then rose from the dead, as the movie portrays. For me, it is not a fable or a fairy tale, but the core of my faith and, ultimately, my life. For this reason, my experience is going to be vastly different from the experience of a person who does not believe these things, and my interpretation will be in keeping with this experience. Nonetheless, I hope that people of all walks of life will be able to relate to what I got from this movie.
Before I saw the movie, I heard people say things like, “I wish there had been more of Jesus’ teachings and ministry,” and I got the impression that the film was a non-stop cinematic orgy of pain and suffering. When I saw the film on Saturday, though, I was surprised to see that there were a number of flashbacks that dealt with key points in Christ’s ministry and teaching. I thought the movie did an excellent job of weaving His teaching into the story, and I can only wonder what those people were expecting to see.
I suppose I should state the obvious, lest it be overlooked: the movie was not called “The Ministry of the Christ” or “The Teachings of the Christ,” it was called “The Passion of the Christ.” “Passion” today means something entirely different from what it used to mean. The word is derived from the Latin “pati,” meaning “to suffer.” Thus, it should comes as no surprise to anyone that a movie entitled “The Passion of the Christ” deals primarily with Christ’s suffering.
As obvious as that may be, though, I do not believe that is the point here. What is truly important here is not semantics, but the nature of Christ’s teaching and ministry here on earth. In a word, the Passion is His teaching and ministry—it is the embodiment, the ultimate expression, of everything that Christ ever said or did during His short time on earth.
Jesus could not have made it any clearer than this: “This is my command: Love each other”(John 15:17). He repeats this command several times, and the apostles in their letters to the believers refer to it as well (e.g. Gal. 5:14, 1 John 4:21). He did not just talk about love, though, but walked the talk in every aspect of His ministry. He said that the greatest love is to die for one’s friends (John 15:13)—how much greater was the love of Christ, who died not only for His friends, but for His enemies as well?
If you asked me to sum up the teachings of Christ, to sum up the Gospel—indeed, to sum up my faith—in one single word, it would be “love.” The apostle Paul named faith, hope, and love as the central tenets of Christianity. Faith refers to the faith that Christians have in Jesus Christ, hope refers to the hope of the resurrection—that we will have life after death—and love is of course the love that Jesus taught. In the very next sentence, Paul says: “But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
Without love it all falls apart. Without love, faith and hope become meaningless. There was a time in my life when I thought God was all about justice, righteousness, and holiness. I thought God was about rewarding the upright and punishing the wicked. God is just, righteous, and holy, of course—but before all that He is love.
I am a very critical person. I enjoy a good argument. And there was a time when I thought my mission as a Christian was to argue people into submission. I knew the Bible cold, and I could argue just about anything. Then one day I was having a discussion with a Catholic friend of mine and proceeded to calmly tear his faith apart. I shot down every one of his arguments, and he had no answers to my questions. I was triumphant. I had won. I had proved that my faith was right, and his faith was wrong—or at least that’s what I thought at the time. I had indeed won an argument, but I had lost a friend.
There are some Christians who do this sort of thing all the time, of course. but we only succeed in destroying relationships and alienating ourselves from the rest of the world. It goes deeper than that, though. Today, our weapons may be words and arguments, but what if I had lived in Europe during medieval times? Would I have joined a Crusade to slay the infidels, convinced that I was doing the will of God? The comparison may seem like a bit of a stretch, but it’s all too real for me. I know what I am capable of when I am guided by zeal and not love.
This is why the idea of love is so important to me—because I know myself, and I know how hard it is for me to love others. It was and continues to be the hardest lesson for me to learn. And as I watched “The Passion of the Christ,” all I could think about was love. The pain, the suffering, everything Christ went through, it was all because He loved me.
Was the movie perfect? No, of course not. Could it have been better? Possibly—but it did what it set out to do, and it did it well. I think what you choose to see in this movie says more about you than it says about the movie. Some people choose to see the faults, some people choose to see a Catholic conspiracy, some people choose to see hatred. I choose to see the expression of the greatest love I have ever known.
Jesus said, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). After seeing “The Passion of the Christ,” I have a deeper, more visceral sense of what this means. Can I love others as Jesus loved me? I will not hesitate to admit that I am not capable of this sort of love. But that doesn’t mean that I will stop trying, that I will not press on toward my goal. I only pray that I will be able to make this love real in my life, and in the lives of those around me.