Passion of The Christ ...

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Passion of The Christ ...
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Passion of The Christ ... I've seen the film.  

 Last night, my wife and I drove to Astoria to see The Passion of The Christ. After months of buildup, controversy and scenes of viewers leaving theatres tearfully, we finally decided to drive 40 miles to the Columbia River and cross the 5-mile bridge into Astoria, Oregon.

We did not have to stand in line for the 6:00 pm Saturday night showing. There were less than 20 people waiting for the film to begin and perhaps another 20 or so came in before the film began.
I sat quietly eating Dots and Milk Duds, apprehensive about how I was going to react to the film because of what I’d already seen and heard. If Free Willie made me cry, what was going to happen to me tonight? My wife, having forgotten to bring a kerchief, stepped into the rest room briefly for a handful of tissues – just in case.
Having been a Bible reader for most of my adult life, as the film began I recognized immediately the location of the opening scene in Gethsemane. But its smoke and full moon were much more tangible on screen than anything I had previously conjured up in my imagination.
I began to calm somewhat as I realized that we were about to take up the gospel stories beginning with the famous moment in the Garden when Jesus was wont to shrink away from what lay ahead and asked the Father to remove the cup. I found myself simultaneously thinking ahead of scenes to come, appreciating the power and skill of the film-making itself, and beginning to release my feelings as I watched.
Only one tearful moment arrived during my viewing of the film – the moment when Mary makes her way to touch Jesus while he struggled with his cross. The flashback to the child Jesus falling down and Mary rushing to comfort her son evoked a surge of emotion for me. I had survived the arrest, the beatings, the mockery and the scourging without feeling an urge to weep but it seemed that a mother’s tenderness and a son’s agony was too much to bear.
There’s a place in the film that portrays the creation of the Shroud of Turin and it was then that I understood Gibson’s Catholicism and why others have called this film a Catholic Gift to Christianity. We were watching Catholicism’s 14 Stations of the Cross.
I am indebted to a web site: Joseph’s Catholic Webatorium for the following progression of the Stations of the Cross which served more or less as a synopsis of the movie:
“Pope John Paul II, once during a Good Friday, slightly altered the usual fourteen stations in this manner:
(1) Jesus' agony in the garden
(2) Jesus is betrayed by Judas and is arrested
(3) Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin
(4) Jesus is denied by Peter
(5) Jesus is condemned by Pontius Pilate
(6) Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns
(7) Jesus is made to carry the cross
(8) Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus with His cross
(9) Jesus meets with the women of Jerusalem
(10) Jesus is crucified
(11) Jesus promises paradise to the repentant thief
(12) Jesus speaks to John and Mary on the cross
(13) Jesus dies on the cross
(14) Jesus is buried in the tomb.
[The Traditional Stations]
Station One: Jesus is condemned to death.
Station Two: Jesus takes up His cross.
Station Three: Jesus falls the first time.
Station Four: Jesus meets Mary.
Station Five: Jesus is helped by Simon.
Station Six: Veronica wipes Jesus' face. [The Shroud of Turin scene]
Station Seven: Jesus falls the second time.
Station Eight: Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem.
Station Nine: Jesus falls the third time.
Station Ten: Jesus stripped of His garments.
Station Eleven: Jesus is nailed to the cross.
Station Twelve: Jesus dies on the cross.
Station Thirteen: Jesus is taken down from the cross.
Station Fourteen: Jesus is buried in the tomb.”
Although currently a member of an Episcopal parish in Washington State, I was born and raised in the LDS (Mormon) Church. I remember taking my wife (who is not LDS) to the Visitors Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City 2-3 years ago. There she was treated to a visual introduction to Mormonism with films, large and beautiful murals and of course printed information. The films and murals had the most positivie impact on my wife.
I remember as a teenager viewing an LDS film entitled “Man’s Search for Happiness” that was shown daily at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964. At the time it was an attempt to create a dramatic portrayal of LDS theology and for me - deeply immersed in the day-to-day living of the Mormon version of reality - it was an absolutely stunning film. It reinforced my youthful understanding of LDS doctrines that would contribute greatly to my later willingness to enter into a two-year mission for the Church.
I would advise the LDS Church today that they use their considerable wealth to underwrite the creation of a faith-film like unto what Gibson has created on behalf of Traditional Catholicism. It might prove to be profitable as well. Recently I read that estimates of ultimate gross sales worldwide for the film will exceed $600,000,000 and Gibson's share is supposedly 40-45%. Not bad for a faith-film.
After seeing The Passion of the Christ, devout Christians have experienced powerful imagery and portrayal that no doubt solidly confirm what they already believe to be factual truth. For those who have ventured to the film with a less devout understanding of Christian theology and limited reading of the Bible – especially and including children - Mel Gibson has given them his own faith-film with powerful images and understandings that are likely to endure.
However, some of those images do not seem to be part of the traditional gospel lore.
In Gethsemane Jesus encounters and speaks with the devil or demon dressed in black and looking either female, asexual or like an effeminate male and who again tempts Jesus. He/she/it also seems to create or drive an existing serpent into Jesus’ presence.
Why the overtones of feminine or effeminate evil? Are the devil-demon and the snake a reference back to Eden where in Christian theology the woman Eve could not resist the temptations of the serpent whereas Jesus in this film does resist the serpent and crushes its head with his heel. What’s all that about?
Is the devil-demon an effeminate male? If so is this some sort of not-so-subtle reference to evil in a gay male stereotype?
Judas’ Betrayal and The Arrest of Jesus were masterfully done. Judas’ subsequent acts of trying to give back the silver and his suicide are contained in the gospels but I must ask,
“What’s with the demonic children who drive Judas crazy? Why was Judas’ end portrayed like that? And is the dead and fly-blown donkey – the source of Judas’ hanging rope - the same donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem earlier in triumph?"
Except for flashbacks, throughout the film Mary is wearing something obviously similar to a nun’s habit without it being a habit. I suspect that folks who have seen this film may very well think of a nun when Mary, Jesus’ Mother, is mentioned. Protestant viewers, especially the Evangelicals, may not appreciate that.
As for the other female, I’m not sure exactly who she is supposed to be but guess that she was Magdalene (if in fact Magdalene was the woman caught in adultery) who wears her nun-outfit early in the movie but later throws back her head cover and, still dressed in black, moves through the film with windblown long black hair in a more fetching and natural portrayal. This is contrasted by the sober and almost regal demeanor of Mary in her Madonna mode.
One more thing with the supposed devil-demon: There is a scene where the effeminate/feminine devil-demon is holding a demon baby as Jesus struggles by with his cross.
What’s with that?
I’ve read that recent work of fiction, The DaVinci Code, and its proposal that Magdalene was married to Jesus, bore him a son, fled to Southern France and became known, among other names, as The Black Madonna. Margaret Starbird also wrote an interesting book on this subject entitled “The Woman with the Alabaster Jar."
Am I missing something here or has Mel made a slap at speculations around Mary Magdalene as someone other than how she has been portrayed traditionally including Pope Gregory’s infamous labeling of her a harlot? Wasn't that label repudiated recently by the Roman Catholic Church?
As for the Jewish and Roman villains – well, an effective story has to have strong villainy in some form in order to sustain interest. Villainy in some stories may not necessarily represent evil unless one considers earthquakes, meteors, volcanoes and perfect storms as evil.
The Passion story villains were established long ago and are necessary to the plot and progression of the story. As we drove home after the movie, my wife and I seemed to agree that although we understand historically that the Jewish priesthood was always between a rock and a hard place in terms of keeping peace in the face of Roman occupation, we are left from the gospels and Gibson’s film to understand that the Jews were not inclined to mercy in any sense.
The gospels teach that the Jews wanted Jesus dead at any cost and The Passion of the Christ is faithful to that teaching.
I also like the rapid movement of events in the film’s portrayal of Jesus’ death, the destruction of the Temple, and rending of the cover of the Holy of Holies.
The short portrayal of the Resurrection is powerful and lets what happened afterward remain as something we already know or perhaps will be told some time later perhaps in another film.
In an earlier article I expressed that idea that it might be appropriate for Mel to make a sequel about The Passion of the Christians who followed in Christ’s footsteps without regard to whether or not they were officially considered heretics from Catholicism or not.
I still think it would be appropriate. My wife expressed the idea that Jesus underwent his passion with an intent that such martyrdom would not be necessary and expectation that something that terrible might never happen again.
But it did.
It happened with Christians again involved. These Christian victims did not suffer at the hands of Imperial Rome alone. Later Christ-followers labeled as heretics suffered at the hands of an imperial Roman Christianity who persecuted its own heretics just as those early Jews persecuted one of their own blasphemers to his cruel death.
Over time what happened to Jesus has happened repeatedly to many who have dared to disagree with established religious and political thinking.
Those so-called heretics who suffered as Christ suffered (because of their devotion to Christ) deserve a lavish and skilled portrayal also. We need to understand that added part of our history if we want to place our emotions around The Passion of the Christ in proper context.
Man’s inhumanity to man and not Jewish inhumanity to God-on-earth during Roman rule would be much closer to home – to where we live and interact in the 21st century.

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