Friday, September 19, 2003

Remarks on Mel Gibson's The passion:

Could this movie be an opportunity for the world to pull back from the brink?

Just now (Sept 19) I saw on MSNBC's news ticker tape where Jewish leaders are publicly accusing the Gibson film, the Passion, as anti semitic.

I thought some observations are in order[cf. Elizabeth Farah and a second piece at ], and quite relevant to the purposes of this group:

1] The gap between perceptions and expectations and truth and right:

The former are subjective, the latter objective. I find that there is a pattern in Western Culture to turn away from objectivity, opening the door to manipulation of emotions so we do not even listen to those who may well be telling us truth that we do not wish to hear. The end of this is that men will choose darkness instead of light.

2] Is the film actually antisemitic?

By several undisputed accounts what it does is it is strongly based on the Gospel texts, and actually does its dialogue in latin and Aramaic, with English sub-titles. Further, I gather that the points where the Gospel message specifically highlights the corruption of the Judaean leadership have actually been softened to avoid offense. (But also, it is easily the most realistic depiction of the brutality of the tortures meted out to our Lord, so much so it is targetted for an R rating when it is released next Ash Wednesday.)

However, given the basic message that a corrupt leadership (Judaean, Herodian and Roman alike) abused the power of the courts to try to get rid of a gadfly, if current jewish leadership are unwilling to accept that as so, then they will raise accusations.

Frankly, that says more about these leaders -- then and now -- than it does about the movie and the Gospels; which have in them an unmistakeable ring of authenticity.

By sharp contrast, the Athenians came to revere Socrates, regretting the horible judicial murder of the Athenian intellectual gadfly; and Plato's Apology became a foundation text of the movement for intellectual freedom in Western Culture.

Could we all, Jew and Gentile alike, recognise that one message in the Gospel Narrative, is that power tends to corrupt, and that courts can often become instruments of abuse and usurpation thus horrible injustice? That, fundamentally, the Jewish/Chriatian debate over Jesus hinges on whether he was/is the messiah -- that is the context is a debate within the Jewish tradition? That, Jesus and his Apostles were and remained Jews?

And, not least, that especially in our time when jihad-crazed suicidal terrorists stalk both Christians and Jews, can we not see that we have more in common than the concerns that divide us theologically?

3] The spiritual dimension

In Acts 16, Luke describes Paul's misadventures in Philippi. There, he was derided as a Jewish interloper who was destroying businesses -- by setting a poor girl free from her demons. He was seized and whipped with Silas, then thrown in gaol. But at midnight, an earthquake intervened.

Soon, the gaoler and family became Christians, on seeing how the apostles responded to the chance of escape and prevented the keeper from killing himself. Then, when the authorities wanted to get rid of the apostles quietly, so that they could get away with injustice and hang over their heads a cloud of suspicion, they suddently had a challenge: let them fetch us publicly, as they have beaten Roman Citizens without even having a trial first!

So, shocked, the authorities had to recognise and apologise for their injustice; vindicating the missionaries. (For, Rome had in the past gone to war over such an incident!)

But then, is that not exactly what the resurrection is: God's vindication of Jesus?

So, Judaism today needs to reassess at several levels:

* Accepting the point that religious and secular leaders - even in a nation with a godly culture -- can become so corrupt that they abuse their power/influence over the instruments of the state. Is this not exactly what the Tanakh's Prophets so often complain of, as in Amos 5:7 - 17?

* Listening to the gospel story within this prophetic tradition, appreciating that in a colonial situation as described, corrupt local leadership and Roman overlords would be all but inevitable. If this were not so, why were there so many revolts and protest movements at this time?

* Hearing the ring of authenticity in the passion narratives: the clash between the galileans and the judaeans coming to a head; the popular galilean leader being seen as a threat rather than a corrective. That corrupt leaders would twist the law and facts to advance their agenda of jealousy is all too familiar.

* Equally, recognise that even in the leadership, there were those who were men of conscience, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who courageously challenged what was going on; including burying the martyred prophet in a tomb right outside the main city gates as a mark of permanent silent but eloquent protest at Jerusalem that kills its prophets.

* Being willing to really listen to the core Christian message -- first proclaimed by JEWS who saw in Jesus the fulfillment of Israel's hopes -- that this Jesus was vindicated by God through the resurrection from the dead. Five hundred eyewitnesses, almost all of them clearly Jews, stood on this point at risk to life and limb.

Likewise, a secularised, apostate and neopagan Gentile world needs to hear again that message: this same Jesus God has raised up and vindicated. he is the One who shall judge us all at the Last Day. In token of this, for two thousand years, we have had a church that has borne witness, worked miracles in his name and even now calls all men to repent.

And so does the Islamic world.

In short, we can all see ourselves and our institutions and leadership cultures on trial in the Passion narratives. If we will but acknowledge this, there can be hope to avoid catastrophe in our time!

So, perhaps, Mel Gibson has brought the whole world face to face with the grim and yet relevant warning of Lord Acton: power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But, there is good news: with such a state of tyranny, corruption and injustice, God is not pleased. However, he in love has submitted himself to just such tyranny that he might save us from our sins and through his church and the Scriptures even now calls all men everywhere to repentance and reformation.

Jew, Gentile, ands Muslim alike.

Brothers and Sisters, let us all repent!

Grace be with you all


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