Volume 16 • Issue 38 | February 20 - 26, 2004


Who did it? Who is Christ is the better question

By Gregg Farah

Christian pastors aren’t often invited to Hollywood screenings. But if you’ve been following news coverage of Mel Gibson’s new film “The Passion Of The Christ,” you know that pastors and other clergy have been given special previews. In January I was invited to the Chicago area for just such a screening, given by Mel Gibson himself. You could say it was the longest trip I had ever taken for a movie.

First impressions: it was the bloodiest film I have ever seen. I believe people need to see “The Passion,” though I fear some will walk out long before it ends. I was surprised that Christ didn’t die before he was nailed to the cross. He was literally beaten to a pulp — gruesome.

And yet, the film was true to the Gospels. As Jesus himself predicted, “They will... mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him.” Gibson unflinchingly documents the terrible punishment Christ endured. Crucifixion is a horrible, horrible way to die.

The start of the film caught me off-guard. It begins dark, feeling more like an art film. And two scenes – The Garden of Gethsemane and the trial – dragged for me. The movie was powerful and compelling, but “Braveheart” it wasn’t.

After the screening we had a Q&A with Mel Gibson. We talked to him not as a movie director, but as a man whose passion for Christ’s story motivated him to craft such a film.

Some have wondered if the movie accurately portrays who killed Christ, the Jews or the Romans. Mel sidesteps this question, in a sense, by giving a broader answer. All of us – the sin of humanity – killed Christ. Too esoteric? Well, Mel takes it seriously, and even symbolically took the blame himself. In the film’s crucifixion scene Mel Gibson’s hand holds the nail being driven into Jesus’ wrist.

Still others are asking the question, “Why did a Hollywood star like Mel Gibson make such a controversial movie?” Why has he chosen to make enemies, upsetting some religious groups and opening old wounds?

I have thought about these points myself, and tried to view the film through the eyes of my Jewish friends and neighbors. I realized that simply staying true to the subject matter, the Gospels, can raise people’s concerns. The Gospel accounts have been controversial for centuries. And so I am pleased someone with such skill at filmmaking has made this movie. This isn’t the first time the story of Christ has been put on film, and probably isn’t the last. It will be up to each individual to judge what they think of Mel Gibson’s interpretation. Overall I believe the debate is an important one.

Ironically though, this debate wasn’t my main focus while watching “The Passion.” I didn’t find myself thinking “Why did Mel Gibson risk his career?” or “Why did someone kill Jesus?” but something much more difficult to answer. Who is Jesus that he would accept this punishment?

Why did he allow himself to be captured? Why did he submit to his interrogators without a word of defense for himself? The best answer would be a movie screening hosted by Jesus himself. Why did he endure torture and the shameful death of crucifixion? Why did he go through all of this?

We have part of an answer already, in the books the movie was based on. According to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Christ came to earth to redeem those he loved more than his own life. Our friends. Our neighbors. Us. Until we’re face to face with Jesus himself, this is the book with the answers.

In the end, is “The Passion” debate just about a movie, or about something more powerful? Our church is going deeper to find out. Starting Sun., Feb. 29th, Mosaic Manhattan will host a 2-week series, including mid-week discussion groups, that asks this critical question, who is Jesus? We don’t want to leave “The Passion” as just a movie controversy. We want to know the truth about the one whom the movie is about.

Gregg Farah is lead pastor of Mosaic Manhattan church in Lower Manhattan.


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