Friday, February 27, 2004


A movie that suggests we are all to blame for the misery of one another

The Passion of the Christ is not about one certain group, religion or race of people. Rather, it is an indictment of all of mankind. The movie deftly shows how we human beings are capable of hurting one another due to our own selfish proclivities -- easily swayed by jealousy, anger, resentment, greed, ambition and fear.

Almost all of the characters in the movie behave in a self-interested manner, with the ultimate consequence of Jesus's crucifixion. Not one person is portrayed as evil but rather, motivated by base desires that snowball into horrible circumstances. The unfolding actions of the high priests, Roman soldiers, Jesus's disciples, Pontius Pilate and various specific characters demonstrate that we all have hurt others around us, even the ones we love and especially the ones we have not yet tried to understand. The lesson to be learned from the Passion is that human beings are all too willing to do what is easy rather than hard, even when confronted with the possibility of embracing unconditional love.

Jesus asked Judas how he could betray the Son of Man with a kiss. At the time, Judas thought more about receiving 30 pieces of silver. Only when he was confronted by the consequences of his actions did he realize that he lost a great deal more than money. He was overwhelmed with guilt to the point where he believed he was not worth anything at all. When Judas was left alone with his thoughts, right before his fateful decision, he was surrounded by visions of children mocking him. His mind was tormented by the Innocents; they knew that he had betrayed the ultimate innocent man, Jesus.

Peter first swore to Jesus that he would never betray him, but Peter denied he even knew Jesus, 3 times. Even Peter, who knew and loved Jesus very much, was flawed like the rest of us. In a fit of panic, the result of an overriding sense of self-preservation, his denials of Jesus saved his freedom in the short term but proceeded to take over his conscience thereafter. Realizing that he too failed Jesus when he ran into Mary, he declared himself unworthy to grasp her hand.

Caiaphas and the other high priests viewed Jesus as a challenge to their authority, and they were right. The movie did not portray them as Jesus's killers, but rather as men who sought to control a mob from being swayed by a "blasphemer." The high priests were more afraid of Jesus's message and his ability to attract crowds than anything else. To avoid a riot and risk the wrath of Pontius Pilate and the Roman guards they allowed Jesus to be handed over. Even though he merely wore a robe and owned no temple Jesus was a threat to their high standing and influential positions. These were powerful men who were dressed in fitting regalia. They didn't see Jesus's message of love, forgiveness, and hope, but rather saw him as a rival for the hearts and minds of the citizens.

The movie smartly contrasted the reception Jesus was given when he arrived at the City on Palm Sunday and how he was treated, just 5 days later, when he carried his cross up to Golgotha. Soon after receiving a hero's welcome, he was a scorned man condemned to death on Good Friday. The ease with which a mob can be swayed should be a lesson to us all. Many times in history and world politics have crowds suddenly turned on people they lauded over a short time earlier. All it takes to manipulate a mob is a few loud voices that provide courage to the rest of the voices that quickly join in the tune. The mob may not have truly desired at heart to choose Barabas over Jesus. But once their neighbors started shouting then other people did too, in order to fit in. The chants of "Crucify him!" were the result of a tidal wave of fear on the part of some. However, such chants did not reflect the feelings of everyone who was present.

Pontius Pilate is seemingly portrayed in a sympathetic light because he agonized over the decision about what to do with Jesus. However, the politically calculating and weak-willed Pilate came across as the most pathetic character in the movie. There is nothing worse than when a person who has assumed the mantle of leadership cannot effectively take control during a difficult and stressful situation. Pilate vacillated so much about what to do with Jesus simply because he was more concerned with exerting power and remaining in control than with finding out the "Truth." He had no discernible opinion of Jesus but rather only cared to make sure that the "rabble," as he sickeningly described the Jews, was decisively contained before creating disorder in his jurisdiction. As Pilate agonized over this situation, his wife profoundly pointed out to him that he could not find truth unless he understood what it was. Sadly, Pilate neither cared about Jesus nor anyone else he was placed in charge of. He only thought about himself and his political career. Pilate, a dark side of indecisiveness, represents our selfish ways - as we refuse to make decisions and stand up for anything.

The soldiers represented what is most evil in all of us. Their visceral delight in torturing Jesus with their sadistic devices serves as a powerful reminder of how we all have deeply wounded other people. All of us have taken great interest and pleasure in the misfortune of our perceived "enemies" and even relished the failure of our friends. And all of us have contributed to Jesus's death through our own sinful and selfish ways. Every time Jesus was lashed by a whip and some other disgusting torture device, while the Roman soldiers counted out their lashings, I could not but help think of every sin I have committed. The worst and most gruesome attack on Jesus served to remind me of the worst sin I have committed.

The women are the only ones who come out well in the story. The most loyal of all, The Blessed Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Veronica and the others wept openly for Jesus. They did everything they could to help him without fear of reprisal or how society would view them. While the men were motivated by retaining prestige, asserting authority with an iron fist and money, the women had no such concerns. Mary, the mother of Jesus, exhibited true strength by watching Jesus being tortured without batting an eye. In contrast, the high priests who handed over Jesus to the Romans could not bring themselves to watch the entire shameful display. Mary Magdalene, who remembered how Jesus accepted her when others scorned her, stood faithfully by his side until the end. Where Simon of Cyrene took great pains to make sure the crowd knew he was an innocent bystander forced to help carry Jesus's cross, Veronica made no such public pronouncements. She rushed to give Jesus her veil and some water as he stumbled past her. When Jesus was carrying his cross it was a crowd of Jewish women who pleaded with the Roman soldiers to stop the madness and spare his life.

The movie serves as a reflection on the human race. After 2,000 years we have not changed at all. Mankind has a lot more learning to do about Jesus's message of love and forgiveness. Because we are human, we are quite fallible. Even those who try to adhere to Jesus's message as much as they can will make many and serious mistakes of the heart. It is impossible to blame one person, one group, one idea for killing Jesus. In human frailty and failings, the events were foretold. Humans can let situations grow out of control, for no good reason, and that inexorably leads to disaster. Jesus reminds us that his role was preordained; he came here on Earth to die for our sins.

I highly recommend this movie and invite anyone and everyone to comment on the movie or my ideas.



Supreme Court says states can withhold scholarships from students studying theology

Chief Justice Rehnquist says in his Locke v. Davey opinion:
"The State of Washington established the Promise Scholarship Program to assist academically gifted students with postsecondary education expenses. In accordance with the State Constitution, students may not use the scholarship at an institution where they are pursuing a degree in devotional theology. We hold that such an exclusion from an otherwise inclusive aid program does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment."

Justice Scalia says in his dissent:
"Today's holding is limited to training the clergy, but its logic is readily extendible, and there are plenty of directions to go. What next? Will we deny priests and nuns their prescription-drug benefits on the ground that taxpayers' freedom of conscience forbids medicating the clergy at public expense?

"This may seem fanciful, but recall that France has proposed banning religious attire from schools, invoking interests in secularism no less benign than those the court embraces today."



MOVIE REVIEW: Realistic 'Passion' will reward viewers willing to experience wide range of emotions
Rick Lubbers defends 'accurate rendering'


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