August 16, 2004
"The Passion" Revisited
"I speak the truth in the Messiah - I am not lying, my
conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit - I have
great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I
could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from
the Messiah for the sake of my brothers, those of my
own race…" (Romans 9:1-3).
Mel Gibson's highly acclaimed movie on the final hours
of Jesus will soon be released on DVD and video tape.
It would not be surprising if sales of this product
break records worldwide. Few films have aroused such
interest as this one has.
By the way, I usually prefer to use "Yeshua" instead
of "Jesus" in my writing. But the greco-anglo form
seemed to be more fitting than the Hebrew one, given
the week's topic.
Months after its initial release there is an aspect of
the movie that still greatly concerns me and should
concern all people who care for the Scriptures and for
the truth. Before I share that concern, my experience
has been that many people who love Jesus and
appreciate how his sufferings are depicted in Gibson's
rendition get immediately defensive when they
anticipate any form of criticism of the movie. Please
note that I am not attempting a general review of the
film here. I want to address one crucial issue. If the
movie has had a positive impact on your life, that's
wonderful. I don't want to distract you or others from
the blessings you or they may have received as a
result of this movie.
At the same time, I hope you can accept that quality
movies and stories, whether or not they be based on
real-life events have many layers and facets to them.
It is possible to address one aspect without
necessarily dealing with other aspects.
The aspect of "The Passion" that I wish to address is
how Jewish people are portrayed. I went to see the
film having been encouraged by the reports I had heard
that the movie was not anti-Semitic in any way. It was
said that the message given by the movie was that we
are all responsible for Jesus' death.
That is why I was so surprised when I saw how Jewish
people were depicted in the film. I know that many
would respond to this comment by pointing our that
Jesus, Mary, and Peter are also Jewish. But because
they are seen on the part of most viewers as members
of the Christian camp, they don't count. For most
viewers the Jewish people in the movie include the
leaders, the mob at his trial before Pilate, Judas and
the devilish children who taunt him. I could list the
other ways Jewish people are negatively portrayed, but
I won't do that here.
What most concerns me is how most people haven't
noticed these things. The only possible reason that I
can think of as to why most people don't notice is
that they simply accept the portrayal of Jews in the
movie as the way it really was. The negative
caricature of Jewish people is so ingrained in the
hearts of most people, that they accept it as normal.
I have met many Christians in the past few years who
have a deep love for Israel and the Jewish people.
Because of their love and commitment, I expected an
outcry over how Gibson portrays Jesus’ own people. But
very little has been said.
Some people are excited by how the film has been
received in countries where the message of Jesus is
not readily heard. These same countries tend to have a
very low regard for the Jewish people. Therefore I
don't share this excitement. Do we really think that
it pleases God for people to encounter his Son while
his Son's own kinsmen continue to be depicted in such
a negative way?
The kind of sentiment toward the Jewish people that
God requires is the one expressed by Paul in the first
few verses of his letter to the Romans, chapter 9. I
was surprised many years ago when I encountered a
commentary on Romans by the Scottish scholar C.E.B.
Cranfield. He explains how the intensity of Paul's
language in this passage demonstrates that the love he
had for his people was not the product of his own
heart but of God's. According to Cranfield, Paul's
extreme love for his own people is that same love that
should be in the heart of every follower of the
Caring about Jesus necessitates caring about the
people from whom he came.
That means that the Church needs to look at how it
continues to marginalize Jewish people through
prejudiced characterization, instead of through an
attitude of humility in keeping with the heart of the
One we profess to follow.