The Passion according to Mel


The Passion according to Mel

I went to see the Passion of Jesus Christ (the new film by Mel Gibson) yesterday. Someone had bought tickets for the men staying at Victory House and had some left over and offered them to the staff here at Trinity.

It *is* a horribly violent movie. I couldn’t watch the flogging or the nailing scenes at all. I cried through a great deal of the trip to Golgotha. It is a wrenching shattering shuddering experience.

Why does Gibson do this? I think, given Gibson’s understanding of the Atonement in the film (which is explained early on in a scene with Satan and Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane), the violence makes sense. The understanding of the Atonement that Gibson apparently holds is that Jesus died to pay the price of sin for every single human being, so that we could all be released from the condemnation we all deserve. (This theme is especially played out in the scene where Barabas is let free and Jesus is condemned to die in his place.) Given what Gibson seems to believe, the level of violence makes sense – as profoundly hard as it is to watch.

However, I do not find the Anselmian (the formal name for Gibson’s) view of the Atonement to be helpful to me either in my spiritual life, or as a preacher or teacher. To me the Cross is a sign of how deeply God loves each of us, and how the depth of our personal and corporate rejection of God is overcome by God’s love towards us. It is important for all of us to remember that Gibson’s attempt to make sense of the Cross of Christ is just one view – and it is not a universally accepted view – there are other views just as commonly held.

What I *did* find profoundly moving in the film was the portrayal of Mary the Mother of God. I had never really understood the idea of Mary the Sorrowful Mother before. Seeing the Via Dolorosa clearly portrayed and seeing the depths of the grief in Mary’s eyes as she watches her son give up his life, made her pain more clear to me than anything ever has before.

I’ll probably be spending a great deal of time this Lent reflecting on the witness of the women of the Gospel account. It’s also a striking coincidence to me that I’ll be traveling in early March to visit my brothers in Europe. As part of our visit we will be making a pilgrimage to the site of the Concentration Camp at Auschwitz. You may recall that is the same place where Christians have recently planted a cross – against the wishes of the Jewish community. And it is the same place where some so-called Christians rigged the base of the same cross with explosives so that anyone attempting to remove it would be killed.

Seeing this film at the same time that I am reading Constantine’s Sword (a history of Jewish-Christian relations) has made me acutely aware of the basic tensions that lie between groups of God’s people. One of the most common criticisms of Gibson’s movie is that it re-raises the tensions that have historically existed between Jews and Christians.

I was intrigued therefore by the portrayal of Simon of Cyrene in the film. Gibson has Simon labeled as a “disgusting Jew” by the Roman soldiers – and yet Simon’s reaching out to Jesus and Simon’s carrying of Jesus’ cross and his attempts to lessen Jesus sacrifice is a strikingly noble act told in the context of the Way of the Cross. Gibson seems to be attempting to try to make the clear that all of us have accepted and rejected Christ and that both Jews and Romans have people who accept and reject Jesus.

That said – I found the portrayal of the Jewish priests and the members of the Sanhedrin deeply disturbing. The actors appeared to be playing out every disagreeable prejudicial stereotype of Jews that I have ever heard. I don’t think that such portrayal helps the movie make its point. I do hope that all of us will do our part to make sure that already difficult relations with our Elder Brothers and Sisters in God are not made any worse…

I hope to have some more to say on this subject after my return from Auschwitz and Dachau. I don’t believe that anyone can talk about the relationship between Jew and Christian in these days without attempting to come to terms with the historical events of the Northern Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.


The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...