Gibson's "Passion": The Greatest Story Ever Told
- Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Silence. Absolute stunned silence. Not even a whisper. Only an intermittent sniffle and a few deep sighs. That was the reaction of 50 or so guests and journalists, including myself, who watched a private screening in Washington, DC, of an unfinished version of "The Passion of the Christ," produced by actor Mel Gibson.
As the movie ended and the screen went black, the audience was collectively dumbstruck at the realization that what they had watched was more than just a good story portrayed by a cast of good actors. It was much more profound than that. It was, in truth, nothing less than each viewer's personal encounter with the terrible consequence of sin – and not someone else's sin, but his or her very own.
The image of a remorseful Julia Marchmain comes to mind. In his novel "Brideshead Revisited" (a classic piece of literature which retells the story of sin, remorse and conversion), author Evelyn Waugh includes a scene in which Julia breaks into a fit of hysteria when her brother matter-of-factly tells her she is "living in sin" with her lover. For the first time in her life, the free-spirited Julia comes to grips with the ugliness of sin. In trying to explain her tears to her lover, Julia tells him that her decision to live with him in spite of the fact they are not married is indeed "my sin." She weeps bitterly because the mask she had placed over her comfortable lifestyle was ungraciously ripped off, exposing her disfigured soul, which was designed to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.
It is much the same with "The Passion of the Christ." But in this case, Mel Gibson plays the role of Brideshead and every member of the audience is Julia, masking our comfortable lifestyles in order to cover our sins and minimize their consequences. Like Brideshead, Gibson uses the graphic and bloody imagery of "The Passion of the Christ" to literally rip off that mask and force us to confront the reality that it was our sins which caused the innocent Jesus to suffer so terribly.
Throughout the movie, one by one, our sins are exposed before our riveted eyes through the actions of various persons of the Gospel: our laziness (the Apostles in the Garden); our betrayals (Judas); our denials (Peter); our lusts (the brutal scourging at the pillar); our cowardice (Pilate); our pride (the leaders of the Sanhedrin); our apathy (Herod); and our fears masqueraded as courage (the unrepentant thief on the cross). The experience is both overwhelming and shaming.
Try as we might to resist, "The Passion of the Christ" will not allow us to hide our eyes from the terrible, brutal and bloody consequences of our own sin. So much so that you will want to cry out to heaven, "Oh, my God, what have I done?" only to hear Our Lord say, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." And that's what makes this movie truly life-changing.
Many noted film directors have attempted to render to celluloid the greatest story ever told. Franco Zeffirelli did a superb job with his "Jesus of Nazareth." But no film retells the last 12 hours of Jesus' life like Gibson's does. "The Passion of the Christ" is so powerful and so literal that it reaches out from the screen and grabs the viewer by the collar, shakes him and shouts, "See! This is the reality of sin!"
No wonder Our Lord told those He forgave, including us today, to "go and sin no more!" He knew the price He would willingly pay. He would feel the sting of the soldier's whip. He would experience the pain of the punches. He would endure the torn ligaments and muscles. And ultimately He would suffer separation from the Father.
Is the movie controversial? Without question, it is. But the real controversy isn't over the widely reported allegations of anti-Semitism. In fact, Gibson has gone the extra mile, even omitting some words of Scripture which, although historical and accurate, might give credence to the false accusations. Besides, viewers might use those words as an excuse to point the finger of blame for Christ's passion and death away from themselves and onto someone else.
And that is precisely what "The Passion of the Christ" will not allow any viewer to do. Mel Gibson rightly places the blame for the brutal death of Jesus squarely where it belongs – on each of us. And that's what makes the movie controversial.
This Lenten season, do not miss "The Passion of the Christ," and don't let your friends miss it. But a word of caution: When you do pick a date to view it, don't make plans to go to dinner afterward. You won't have the stomach for it. Instead, go home, find a quiet place and pray.
© 2004 AgapePress. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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