Correspondence From Shlomoh's Friend, Jim Massey
March 2004

A scene from "The Pasison of the Christ." The film, produced, written and directed by Mel Gibson, depicts the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ.

From: Jim Massey Date: Wed, Mar 3 2004
Subject: The Passion movie

I feel emotions deeply, but very rarely cry. The only time I burst into tears was when Jesus was on the Via Dolorosa, and he fell; his mother came to him, and he turned and said to her, "See mother, I make all things new," the quote from Revelation when Jesus reveals the purpose of all his work to John.
At that instant I was filled with the enormity of what he has done for us, and what it had cost him, and the sorrow and the wonder mixed and I sobbed, "Oh God, Oh God," and burst into tears. Let the detractors scowl; this movie is going to change the world, it is changing the world already.

Grace wrote:
If anything, the movie tempted me to hate people. I felt like, why does God even love us, there is so much hate. And in the midst of that temptation, I heard the voice of Christ, "Forgive them..."

That was the response of the woman who went with my son and me. Mine was to loathe all I had done to put him here, and pray for greater holiness to at least make some of it worthwhile.

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in my Savior's blood?
Died he for me, who caused him pain?
For me, for whom to death persued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, O Lord, shouldst die for me?

I had seen the suffering in Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece; I had heard it in Bach's St. Matthew Passion ("Laßt ihn, haltet, bindet nicht!"); I had read it described by C. Truman Davis in the famous 1965 Arizona Medicine article; but only in this movie may the whole world may experience it. Now there is no excuse of ignorance.

From: Jim Massey
Date: Thu, Mar 4 2004
Subject: The Passion movie

Whether people can get anything positive out of the film is not for me to say. To be able to fully understand the film would require knowledge of the gospels and some references to the Pslams and Revelation, some of the stories (such as St. Veronica) surrounding the passion narrative, a recognition of Christian symbolism (e.g., the dove of the Holy Spirit, the raven as an evil spirit), a basic knowledge of Jewish politics of the time, some recognition of the nature and examples of naturalistic Christian art in history, and an appreciation of cinematic techniques (including the gory special effects, but more importantly the more traditional techniques such as editing, camera angle, lighting, flashback, color scheme, dramatic truncation in the script, and understated acting).

Since [Deke] won't see the film, let me tell you one thing I noticed that I have not seen anyone else comment on. The movie begins with a quote from Isaish 53, and then immediately goes into the story. No "MEL GIBSON PRESENTS," then "A BIBLETHUMPING PRODUCTIONS FILM," then "JIM CAVIEZEL," then "MAIA MORGENSTERN," then, "THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST." There are no titles until after the movie is over, and the story is told. This is a clear message, at least clear to anyone who is fluent in moviespeak:

Not I, but Christ, be honored, loved, exalted;
Not I, but Christ, be seen, be known, be heard;
Not I, but Christ, in every thought and word.

From: Jim Massey
Date: Sat, 6 Mar 6 2004
Subject: The Passion movie

Deke wrote:
I don't see the relevance of your comments. In the first place, I didn't accuse *YOU* of anything. In fact, I specifically *EXCLUDED* you, along with Grace and Scott.

I know you didn't; I think at one point in the message that I said I wouldn't peak for you. But I will say that unfortunately, the above has the ring of "good n----r": "you wouldn't do X, but you know that your poeple would." All I know is that all people sin, left and right alike, and if we didn't do anything that might lead people into sin, we would end up not doing anything. TV shows like "Sex in the City" overtly lead people into sin because they overtly promote a promiscuous lifestyle, and it is paraded across TV screens and discussed ad nauseum in the press for six years with very little concern, while Gibson comes out with one movie, which *might* somehow fan the hellfire of anti-Jewishness in the mind of someone already convinced of Jewish Christ-killing, and the howls of fear are legion. It is that double standard that I get tired of.

I can honestly understand, given the centuries of progrom and holocaust, that the vigilant cry of "never again" should be heard, but I think an honest evaluation of the anti-Semitic efforts of the past few decades would point out that conservative Christians have been the friends of Judaism and Israel, liberal Christians and relativists have generally tried to act neutral, and most Muslims are the foes of Judaism and Israel, with a sufficient number of them willing to kill and be killed in that cause. If I were looking for the next holocaust, pogrom, or even rise in anti-Semitism, I would look to the mosque, not the moviehouse. So why is it that we are supposed to "understand" Muslims but we aren't supposed to "understand" the piety of conservative Christians? Or is that because...

Deke wrote:
When it comes to matters like tolerance, fundamentalists have a poor record that's a historical fact, and recent surveys show no great change.

Perhaps that's because the definition of "tolerance" changes; the goalposts are always being moved back. Even liberal William Raspberry, in his graduation address some years back, complained about this, and made the valid point that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. For example, I was born on May 17, 1954, when the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling was given, and the span of my life has been the even changing nature of what it means to be liberal, and what it means to be tolerant, which is why at some point in my life I ceased to be a liberal and starting being a conservative, even though I had not changed in the sense of my own beliefs. As I have written here before, the things I believed as a child and as a young man are in general (with softenings of the hard edges that come from age and experience) the same things I believe today, but as a child I was a Kennedy Democrat and today I am a Bush (well, actually a Forbes) Republican. If I didn't change, someone else has to have changed.

Figuratively speaking, someone came to me when I was young and said, "You need to let blacks in your community, your restaurants, your sports teams, your schools," and I looked at my Bible and it said that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, barbarian or Scythian, and I agreed, and that made me a liberal. When Hubert Humphrey said he would eat the affirmative action bill if it ever led to quotas but that we needs to help minorities, I looked at my Bible and it said to help those in need, and I agreed, and that made me a liberal. When someone came to me and said, "Women deserve the same opportunities in the workplace as men," I looked at my Bible and it said the Lydia had a church at her house and Deborah judged Israel, and I agreed, and that made me a liberal. When Eugene McCarthy came to me and said that the war in Vietnam was a travesty of American justice because we were killing the innocent rather than liberating them, I looked at my Bible and it said that Christians were not in the business of killing but that we were supposed to defend the innocent, and I agreed, and I wore the armband on Moratorium Day and that made me a liberal.

Then someone came to me when I was grown up and said if I were a liberal I had to accept homosexuality, and I looked at my Bible and it said that homosexuality is a sin and that we all sin, so that we should love homosexuals just as we love all people by providing means to overcome their temptations, and I agreed, and that made me a bigoted conservative homophobe. And then someone came to me and said that if I were a liberal I had to accept abortion, and I looked at my Bible and it said that Jeremiah was known by God before he was formed in the womb, that the angels of children always saw the face of the Father, and that to kill the defenseless was a heinous sin, and I agreed, and that made me a antiwoman knuckledragging Neanderthal. And then someone came to me and said that if I were a liberal I had to accept quotas and forced bussing and lowered standards for the same of "diversity," and I looked at my Bible and it said that one should not show favoritism to either the rich or the poor, that God was not a respector of persons--and I remembered Humphrey and his promise about quotas--and I disagreed, and that made me a racist sheetwearing angry white male. And then someone came to me and said that if I were a liberal I had to support the bombing of Serbs and aspirin factories but I couldn't support the liberation of a people whose leader had clear (and becoming clearer) terrorist ties, and I went back to my Bible and it said the same thing it had said 35 years earlier, that we were supposed to defend the innocent and the power of the sword had been given to the government by God precisely to defend the good, and I agreed, and I supported the war on terror and the liberation of Iraq, and that made me a antiMuslim Bushloving troglodyte. And then someone came to me only four weeks ago and said that if I were a liberal I had to accept not only homosexuality but homosexual marriage because real liberals had already gotten past the homophobia (when in fact the only fear I have is of sin, wherever it is, particularly in me), and that was when I heard the sounds of Squealer from Animal Farm, who constantly spun every change in the farm law until what the animals had stood for had become the opposite of what the animals had stood for, and I said NO I WON'T, and I am attacked for my ignorance and painted with the same brush I painted segregationists with two generations ago because I won't toe the continually amorphous Animal Farm party line.

I have the same ideals I had as a child. Age and experience has softened my stridency and lowered my expectations, but the ideals are still there, and I will not be swayed from them, not to stay with the crowd, because I never ran with the crowd: the crowd ran where I ran, and runs where I run, or I run alone, because I determined from my youth that I would run with God, wherever He led, whatever He did, and though like sheep I have often gone astray, the Lord in His love laid upon Jesus the iniquity of us all, and the Good Shepherd looks for me and finds me, and brings me back, and I walk with His flock, not because of the flock, but because of the shepherd. So if Mel Gibson's dad is a nutcase and Gibson's Passion isn't what every "Bible scholar" today says it should have been, and there aren't a zillion warning labels on the film like the PDR reprint in a box of medicine, I say that the great is the enemy of the good, and that this film is a force for good, and that can be seen by the hearts it is changing, and like a medicine that does good one may have to watch for side effects and mitigate them, but that does not mean the medicine should be thrown to the dogs.

Jim Massey is a Lutheran

Contact him at

Return To The Passion Essays Index

Return To The Essay Index

Return To The Literary Index

Return To The Site Index Page

Email Shlomoh