A Christian Zionist Responds To The Passion

By Cheryl Hauer, BFP - United States
Submitted to me by Jim Massey
Date: Tue, March 16 2004

I'm almost afraid to say it. The question on everyone's lips is, "What did you think of the Passion," and I'm afraid to answer. I am the last of my friends and colleagues to see the movie; I was traveling when it premiered. Since then, I have read dozens, even hundreds, of reports, reviews, and responses and been involved in innumerable discussions with Christians and with Jews about a movie I hadn't yet viewed. Well, now I have seen it, and with a bit of trepidation, this is my response. For what it is, I thought it was a pretty good movie. Now, before you draw and quarter me, let's talk about what it is…and what it isn't.

First of all, like its Hollywood predecessors, it is a movie made totally in the style of its day. Ben Hur and the Ten Commandments were typical of the big screen extravaganzas of their time with unrelenting melodrama, thousands of extras and lots of dust that seemed to swirl endlessly in the air yet never land on anyone.

Franco Zefferelli took a shot at the biblical epoch with Jesus of Nazareth. Strongly influenced by Catholic tradition, it was much like movies of its time: very artsy with a very mystic Jesus and a few dirty faces…a kind of sterile spaghetti western.

The Hollywood of today, however, has a preoccupation with violence and realism. After seeing body parts blown around for what seemed like hours, many of us realized a few years ago that the grace to survive the Normandy invasion was only given if you were actually IN it. We shouldn't have expected the Passion to be anything other than "Braveheartian" in its tone and presentation.

I have heard many indictments that the movie was too ugly, too evil, too violent…in that sense it was an affront. As I watched the film, I had to ask myself as a Christian, how much violence is too much violence in the ultimate battle between God and the forces of darkness? How evil should consummate evil be? What did I expect the torture and murder of God to look like? Having recently sat with a colleague to view photos of Christian victims of genocide in the Sudan, I thought the depiction of the suffering of Jesus was probably pretty realistic. That, I think, is the affront. We can't hide from the ugliness of it; it's right there in our faces. No sterilizing this time. When all the forces of evil gather in an attempt to obliterate goodness, no holds are barred and hideousness of the fight is hard to look at. Yet, throughout the movie, there radiated from that left eye a peace in total vulnerability that was almost equally hard to view.

I have also heard complaints that the resurrection of Jesus is almost an afterthought in the movie. Let's remember that it is called, "The Passion of Christ," not "The Resurrection of Christ." Again, heavily influenced by Catholic tradition and for good or ill, the movie is about the last painful, ugly hours that Jesus spent on this earth. It was appropriate that the movie be released at Lent, although that may have been lost on much of the Church today since an alarming number of Christians don't know what Lent is and don't care to. But it is a time that Christians have historically taken to meditate on the suffering and death of their Savior. That, I believe, was the goal of the film and as such, the brief glimpse of the resurrection in the last few minutes was not only appropriate, but powerful.

But for my colleagues and myself, the real problem with the film has to do with the presentation of first century Jews and its ensuing effect on the Jewish community worldwide. Is the movie anti-Semitic? Will it engender hatred and destroy all of the work Jews and Christians have done in recent years to build bridges of understanding? Might it foment violence against Jews in other less secure parts of the world? Here, I begin to feel sad for Mel Gibson. I don't believe he is an anti-Semite, nor do I believe there was any malevolent intent in the making of the film. I believe he is a victim, as is much of the Church today, of an overriding ignorance of history and a non-scriptural, and certainly unrecognized, arrogance that somehow makes it all right to ignore two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism because we've got the "real scoop."

If the movie had been made two years after the incident, this would have been an in-house discussion, and it may well have gotten the award for best picture. But it wasn't. It was made two thousand years after the incident, and as such, there is a responsibility to tell the story honestly yet with sensitivity to what has happened to Jesus' descendants, the Jews, during the ensuing centuries. I don't think Mel Gibson understood the history or the responsibility.

The Christian Scriptures tell us that Jewish leaders were complicit in the death of Jesus, but the film creates almost a caricature in the high priest and his cohorts. It also paints Pilate as a benevolent sort, obviously conflicted over this ugly situation. One must wonder if he was equally as conflicted over the other million or so Jews that were murdered under his rule. Many of the wailing Jewish onlookers are, in fact, mourners and not cheerleaders, which is a point often lost in the discussion. And per haps the most blatant anti-Semitism I saw was on the faces of the Roman soldiers as they took all of their frustration, loneliness, and hatred out on this one vulnerable Jew.

But all that is rhetoric. The bottom line is this: As a Christian, it really doesn't matter whether or not I think the film is anti-Semitic. What matters is that my Jewish friends do, and, therefore, it becomes my responsibility to interpret the story for them and stand by them as they deal with whatever consequences may come. I believe God is using the movie to do one very important thing. He is drawing a line in the sand. I know my Jewish friends fear that the Jews will be on one side of the line and everybody else on the other. But I believe it is God's challenge to the Church today to make sure that the anti-Semites are on one side, and we are standing shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish friends on the other. The Church had a similar opportunity prior to and during World War II. We did not rise to the occasion and there were six million victims to remind us of our failure. I pray we do a better job this time.

Pray for Christian love to flow toward the Jewish people and that their wounds of centuries be healed by the Lord our God.

"The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of His people and heals the wounds He inflicted" (Isaiah 30:26).

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From: Deke Barker
Date: Tue, Mar 16 2004


Thanks so very much for posting #7.

I admit to being a bit more suspicious of Gibson's motives. I can't get the filming of the "blood libel" comment out of my head, and the fact that the subtitles were removed in the American movie house version without removing the whole scene. It will be interesting to see how the scene is handled in other versions and on DVD.

OTOH, I'm merely speculating. The author of that piece makes a good argument that Gibson was doing nothing other than what his antiquated beliefs demanded. Like her criticism, the author's defense of the film was both reasonable and thoughtful.

Most of all, I appreciated her "take" on the film's impact on Jews.

Even the best films have to resort to stereotypes. Stereotypes are invariably unfair, but what else can one do in 90-150 minutes? But when one is toying with stereotypes that have the potential to incite serious conflicts between groups of people, civic responsibility *MUST* be placed before "art". Gibson apparently failed to do that.

From: King Solomon
Date: Tue, Mar 16 2004

Thanx for this article, Jim

By the way, he says that with this picture, God is drawing a line in the sand. I am not aware whether not not, God does that but I will add a footnote that I forgot to add when I wrote my own review of the film.

I told you that my friend Kenny went with me to see the movie. He is an Orthodox Jew who is completely in the dark abut the gospel story. He did not like the movie and he saw nothing in it that he could relate to.

HOWEVER - at the beginning of the movie, he said something very interesting to me. He said that he believes that God wanted Jesus to be crucified. When I asked him why he believes that, his answer is that nothing happens without a divine plan. His answer is that of a religious fundamentalist. When I asked what the divine plan is concerning the crucifixion of Jesus, he said he doesn't know; he can't read God's mind.

His answer is that of a religious Jew; they don't presume to know what's behind things; they just obey. If he told me that God planned for Jesus to be crucified, I wonder how many other people he has told.

From: Grace Harris
Date: Thu, Mar 18 2004

Shlo, I'm very glad that you were with Kenny.  I imagine the film was very confusing for those unfamiliar with the gospel stories.

The week before the movie came out, the Taoist temple I visit once a month had a class comparing the teachings of Jesus to the teachings of Buddha by a PhD in Religious Studies.  One of the things he drove home was that we cannot understand Jesus without understanding his CHOICE to accept death on the cross, and that we cannot understand that without understanding the concept of sacrifice which existed in Judaism and the surrounding religions -- there is NO concept of sacrifice in Eastern Religions.

This led to a discussion of the Passion, and the MEANING of the the violence.  It was very good for them all to hear in depth the history of antisemetism and the confict over the movie, and how Christians viewing the movie would not be focusing and who killed Christ, but on Christ choosing to take on the sins of the world, thus "releasing  from karmic bonds" all who choose to receive that gift.

Yeah, the translations into "Tao-ese" are very interesting. :)

And Shlomoh, yes, because through inaction the Church allowed anti-semitism to fester for 1600+ years, we DO as Christians owe the Jews help in the face of anti-semitic acts, as in the response of Christians to the UPC pastor and the Christians in the artical about the synagogue vandalism, and we owe you patient reassurance that we reject wholeheartedly blood libel and anti-semitism. We are in a collective state of penance. Maybe sometimes my tactics have not been the wisest, and often I am more blunt than patient, but this IS why I have posted to you relentlessly on this subject.  It hurts me to see you fretting about this to a degree disproportional to the problem.  With all my heart, I'd like to see you freed from that fear.  Despite the fact that as much as 10% of the general population (including many non-Christians) may still be anti-semitic, 90% are NOT.  I want you to know how much most Christians love you.

From: "King Solomon"
Date: Thu, Mar 18 2004

Grace - You are misinterpreting what I am feeling. I am not now, or have I ever been, fretting about the movie. I have stated my opinions on it; I have written a 12 page review. Most of the Jews who have read my review are offended by it because they say that I am "too liberal" "too objective" about the movie - that I "exonerate Gibson" etc.

My response is that I saw both negative and positive things about the film. My response was what Deke has been saying for weeks and what everybody seems to be ignoring - Gibson and the movie makers are criminally INDIFFERENT to how this movie is affecting people.

You insist that I fret and that I see a pogrom behind every door. Usually I ignore you when you say that because I am frankly confused by how you see my reaction to the movie. You say Christians love me. Here is how I have experienced 66 years of being part of a Jewish minority living amongst Euro-centric Christians with a 2000 year history of intollerance. YOU love me; Jim loves me; Scott loves me - Christians IN GENERAL do not love me. They love the possibility that I will acccept that the messiah has truly come.

They do not love the INTRINSIC me, and why should they? They don't know me. I don't believe in unconditional love. I believe you get love the old fashioned way. You EARN it.

I cannot tell you strongly enough that I have the background and the fortitude NOT to be fretted by this movie. What I tell my Jewish friends is this. America is an ignorant country, especially when it comes to the Bible. Jews are ignorant and so are Christians. Christian ignorance is expressed by the belief that what they see on Gibson's screen is actually history instead of a mythologized, idealized, even poeticized RELIGIOUS IDEA of salvation thru a suffering servant. Jewish ignornance is expressed by a blind hatred and animus toward the story of Christ and refusal to know anything about it even tho they live in a society very much in tune with the ideas generated by the Christ story. Christian "love" has turned Jews away from this story.

If indeed Christians had treated Jews differently in history, Jews could have been their greatest religious allies - while still holding on to their own beliefs. Instead, you have a movie that comes out and stirs up sleeping dogs better left asleep. I am not worried about the PASSION's antisemitism. It echoes the antisemitism of the gospels themselves. I am worried that Mel Gibson is making millions of dollars while he goes about his life INDIFFERENT to the problem he has created. I am concerned about what will happen when the movie is released abroad. We can have another discussion about it at that time.

Grace Harris converted to Roman Catholicism from Holiness Religion over 20 years ago and is currently undergoing conversion to Judaism. [2010]

Deke Barker is a member of the church of The Disciples Of Christ.

Contact us at kingsolnew@yahoo.com

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