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 
Messiah.

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.