In its first five days, The Passion of Christ, an incredible movie by Mel Gibson, took in more than $125 million, making it the third top grosser for a five-day opening. And it shows no signs of slowing down.
Mel Gibson produced an incredibly moving film. I wept openly during many of the scenes as did most of the audience. Many people could be heard sobbing loudly during the showing I attended. At one point, during the scourging of Christ, I wanted to shout "Stop it! That's enough! You're killing him!" And at each blow of the hammers against the nails, I flinched.
The film is also incredibly violent. We have sanitized the cross. For most people around the world, the cross is a beautiful piece of jewelry or an ornament to grace an altar or a communion table. In reality the cross was a brutal means of torture and execution. It was designed to humiliate the victim and draw out death as long as possible often the victim suffered for a week, going totally mad before actually dying. During the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Roman crosses lined the road going into Jerusalem.
A.O. Scott, a film critic for The New York Times flays Gibson's movie. He says, "This film means to make literal an event that the Gospels often treat with circumspection and that tends to be thought about somewhat abstractly."
The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth was a literal event. It is meant to be taken as a literal event. It is not a metaphor or an allegory. It happened. It is true that the Gospels do not go into very much detail about the crucifixion. Everyone who read the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John would have seen a crucifixion or would have known from very immediate history what a crucifixion was. There was no need for detail. It seems Scott has missed the point, but the pounding of nails through human flesh, the dislocating of joints, the starvation, the thirst, the broken bones and the ultimate suffocation was hardly an "abstract" idea.
A note about movie reviewers, movie violence and anti-Semitism:
First, movie reviewers lie or deliberately mislead. Many of the reviews I have read say that the scene in which Jesus is scourged lasts 45 minutes, giving the deliberate perception that for 45 minutes, audiences are forced to watch Jesus whipped and beaten. There is a measure of truth in what they say a very small measure. From beginning to end, the scourging scene may last 45 minutes, but Jesus is on screen being whipped for less than 10 minutes. The remainder of the time is devoted to various flashbacks from his life.
Second, movie reviewers lie or deliberately mislead. Many of the reviews I have read say that film is anti-Semitic. If The Passion of the Christ is anti-Semitic, then so are the Gospels of the New Testament from which the film is closely drawn.
If the Bible is God's Word and I believe that it is then Gibson's film accurately tells the story of the involvement of the Jewish leaders and some not all Jewish people. Anti-Semitism is calculated to incite bigotry and violence against Jews. This film is not anti-Semitic.
Critics are already dismissing the box office strength of The Passion of the Chirst. One early morning network broadcast under-reported its weekend gross by $10 million. Such sloppy reporting can only be calculated to lessen the impact of a tremendous opening. Critics are scoffing at the $125 million figure "because churches have bought out theaters." You bet your booties, Granny! Passion unashamedly and unabashedly tells the story of the Son of God dying for sins of humanity, and if church people did not support this film, then you'd have a scoop.
Jesus said his message was offensive, and divisive he came, he told us to divide, to bring a sword, not to be a stained-glass figure that could easily be ignored. So church people should see the movie. Good googilee moogilee, if the Hollywood crowd did a film that openly promoted homosexuality and homosexuals bought out the theaters, the liberal media would say nothing about it, except about how "courageous" the film was, and how much money it made. But let the church support something and our dollars are dismissed because we spend them in the name of God!
Never has anything like this hit the screens of the metroplex. The Last Temptation of Christ lied and distorted the story and was praised by reviewers. Good movies like Jesus of Nazareth, King of Kings and The Greatest Story Ever Told have been fairly faithful recreations, but they were calculated to be a soft-sell, a soft-peddling of the story, calculated to offend no one.
Roger Ebert, film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and a former Roman Catholic altar boy, wrote, "For we altar boys, this (Lenten services) was not necessarily a deep spiritual experience. Christ suffered, Christ died, Christ rose again, we were redeemed, and let's hope we can get home in time to watch the Illinois basketball game on TV. What Gibson has provided for me, for the first time in my life, is a visceral idea of what the Passion consisted of."
The Passion of the Christ does not end with the death of Jesus. He rises from the grave, and with his face firmly set, he leaves the tomb. The music that plays in the background is not harp music, not a palatable, Sunday school piece that would have satisfied A.O. Scott. It is martial music. It is battle music. And the risen Son of the Living God marches out of the tomb to continue the war against hell for the souls of men.
(David Sisler, a Martinez resident, is pastor of Macedonia United Methodist Church in Camak, Ga.)
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