Friday, October 01, 2004

The Passion of the Christ: Pride vs. Penitence
GEM 04:09:24

Just before we went on air last Wenesday, Sept. 22nd, Let’s Talk’s hosts previewed Mel Gibson’s powerful and painful, but controversial record-setting blockbuster movie, The Passion of the Christ.

For me, three easily overlooked moments capture much of the essence of the movie: (1) a fellow prisoner calling Jesus a fool for prayerfully embracing his cross in humble submission to the Father; (2) the sadly comical picture of a heavily made up, half-mad Herod having his long-haired wig put on just before he goes out to examine and dismiss Jesus as an idiot; (3) Mel Gibson, blue eyes shining into the camera, acting as one of the Roman soldiers nailing Jesus to the cross:

I. The paradox of atonement: As the Apostle Paul long ago warned, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” [1 Cor 1:18.] In our day, many want to believe that sin is a minor -- or even a mythical -- problem, so (a) they refuse to recognise the justice of God’s holy wrath against sin, and (b) find it hard to accept that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in [the crucified and risen] Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom 6:23.] But in fact, through the cross God shows himself both “just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus” [Rom 3:26]; for, in Christ God himself [Col 1:15 – 20, Phil 2:5 – 11 (cf. Isa 45:18 – 23!) & Heb 1:1 – 4] bears the eternal penalty for our sins, so that those who look in repentance and trust to that cross may there find grace: mercy, cleansing, and reconciliation with our heavenly Father (i.e. eternal life, cf. Jn 17:3). Then, in triumphant proof of this strangest of all spiritual truths, Christ Jesus “through the Spirit was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” [Rom 1:4, cf. 1 Cor 15:1 – 11; also see Jn 5:16 – 30 (esp. 16 – 24) & 8:42 – 59 on just what “Son of God” means.]

II. The sad pretence of power: The picture of ruthless and cowardly rulers putting up a false front to impress others while failing to be concerned with truth and justice, joined by howling mobs madly barking for Jesus’ blood, and leading to the callous brutality of the soldiers who gleefully carried out the unjust order to put an innocent man to a horrible death is one of the saddest parts of the passion week story. For, it lays bare the shabbiness of political scheming, exposes how easily mob-rage overwhelms justice, and shows how we too often shrug our shoulders and “just do our job” – thus making, supporting and carrying out unrighteous decrees. So powerful is this point, that some have said that the film is an attack on Jews, but in fact it is just plain too big for that; instead it is the shabby hypocritical injustice and cowardice of all of humanity that are on all too public display. (Indeed, if we were to sit down together as a Caribbean family and carefully reflect through the eyes of this film on just where our own fast-spreading hypocritical corruption, greed, slanders, prejudice and injustice are heading, it would be an important step toward God-blessed repentance and community reformation.)

III. The power of penitence: Gibson’s appearance as a Roman soldier at the cross is a direct echo of Rembrandt’s famous painting in which that great Dutch painter appears, blue beret and all, as one of the execution squad. Thus, for the whole world to see, Mel is confessing that he too, by his own sins, has helped nail Jesus on the cross. But, in fact, no clenched-over nails ever had the power to hold him there; it was love for us and submission to the Father’s will that we be redeemed by the blood of the spotless Lamb of God that kept him on that cross, in the teeth of the mocking taunt: if you are the Christ, come down. And so, we read:

“. . . Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” [Jn 3:14 – 17.]

In the end, then, the Passion of the Christ is a love story: that of the God who reaches out to undeserving, ungrateful, rebellious wretches who ever so often gleefully resort to injustice and hypocrisy if there is an advantage in it. In short: US. Just one question therefore remains: how will we respond to that ever so painfully given love?

So, now, lets talk . . .


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