4 STARS - INSPIRING
“Greater love has no one than this, to lay down his life for his friends.” These words are spoken by Jesus (James Caviezel) in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” as a flashback during his excruciating beating and crucifixion. Placed within this context, it is clear that Gibson’s purpose in the film is to portray Jesus in the final hours before his death, not as a reluctant victim, but as a willing sacrifice sent by God to accomplish a larger purpose.
Opening the film with the prophecy of Isaiah 700 years before Jesus was born, he reminds us that the Messiah would be “pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace would be upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
This purpose continues in the opening scenes in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus struggles with Satan who suggests that Jesus cannot bear the sins of the whole of humanity. This slithering temptation is artistically symbolized by a snake that Jesus counters by crushing its head, another fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy.
The purpose is also revealed as the film places the extra-biblical words of Mary (Maia Morgenstern) at the trial before the Sanhedrin when she says, “It has now begun.”
This awareness that Jesus and Mary, as well as Satan, were all aware of the purpose and plan of God to forgive the sins of the world through the sacrificial death of Jesus as the final paschal lamb is also referenced when Mary asks the traditional question of the Passover dinner: “What makes this night different from any other night?” Having just celebrated the Passover with his disciples, it is on this night that Jesus is arrested and the final twelve hours leading to his crucifixion begin.
The awareness that sin has so captivated humanity and shows itself most heinously when found in the religious and political leaders of our world is only overshadowed by the betrayal and denial of Jesus’ own disciples.
The betrayal is experienced in the greed of Judas (Luca Lionello), and the denial is expressed in the cowardice of Peter (Francesco de Vito). Looking deep within their souls, Jesus calls them to repentance.
The power of sin is also seen in the violence-drunken behaviors of the Roman soldiers whose blood lust brings a giddy enjoyment to a beating that is beyond our sensibilities. That people actually rejoice in evil is a devastating reality that requires a God of infinite justice and love to resolve.
The power of God’s love expressed in graphic terms requires a decision to be made by every person who considers its meaning. Our freedom to respond is inherent in the self-sacrificial love that took Jesus willingly to the cross.
- With such a graphic depiction of the Passion of the Christ, what did you learn from this experience that expanded your understanding of the life of Jesus?
- When Satan is presented in androgynous beauty with seeming compassion for Jesus as he struggles with God’s will in the garden, we begin to understand the form of temptation. How do you experience it?
- The history of passion plays in Europe in which anti-Semitic hatred resulted caused many Jewish people to fear this film. In what way might you use this story to open a dialogue and reduce this fear?
- The use of Roman Catholic tradition was woven into the story along with Biblical history. How did this expand your own traditional understanding of the life of the Christ?
- Who do you say Jesus is?