Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Way of the Cross

Last night, I went with a group from church to see The Passion of the Christ . Here's my personal take on it:

Mel Gibson's movie was extremely well-made. Sometimes movies that get so much media hype don't have much more than hype going for them. This is not the case with The Passion. It takes us step-by-step with Jesus of Nazareth through his night of prayer at Gethsemane to his arrest, sentencing and the tortuous steps along the Via Dolorosa to his death...and ultimate triumph.

The movie is, in essence, an expanded version of the Stations of the Cross, a contemplative and prayerful series of meditations on Christ's last hours. If you want more information on Stations of the Cross, there are a number of Web sites you can visit. Here are a couple of good ones:

I've heard a couple of critics say that, "well, the movie's not a very good tool of evangelism." I agree with that -- and I don't think Gibson meant it to be. The Stations of the Cross is meaningful for someone already in their faith, not so comprehensible for someone in the exploratory steps of Christianity.

Though the movie focuses on the last 12 hours of Jesus' life, we see significant Gospel passages through a series of flashbacks. The whole basic Gospel story is there for the faithful, whether enacted or suggested.

The movie was as brutal and bloody as advertised. I could not watch some of the scenes of the Romans' flogging of Jesus, or of the crucifixion. There is something to be said for realism in this context, though. How can we understand what Jesus suffered for us with a bland, sanitized version? The depth of the wounds and the amount of blood were still short of reality, but I don't think any caring person could take that much realism.

The brutality and bloodiness of it invite us to consider the unredeemability (to coin a word) of the human race. Jesus' love, compassion and mercy toward those who tortured and crucified him are sharply contrasted by the brutish cruelty of the soldiers; Pilate's sin of doing the wrong thing for expediency, denying his conscience; and the arrogance and pride of the priests that led them to scheme to get rid of this upstart troublemaker.

We see the goodness of humanity in Simon of Cyrene, in the Roman soldier who has a change of heart, in Claudia, Veronica, and Peter, despite his betrayal of Jesus.

I did not see anything anti-Semitic in the movie. It reinforced the collaboration between the Jews and the Romans to bring about Jesus' death, representing all humanity. The sins of the human race -- past, present and future --brought Jesus to Golgotha.

We see what we -- the human race -- have done to the Christ. Flashbacks, revealing the truly beautiful Jesus radiating a beautiful spirituality are in sharp contrast to the blood-caked horror we have made him.

Isaiah 52:14-15, NIV:
Just as there were many who were appalled at him
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness-
so will he sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

We see Jesus, already beaten, look with heart-melting compassion on Judas, who is cowering in fear and wretchedness at the realization of what he has done.

This is the movie's central theme: the enormity of what Jesus has done for us, in His love for us. Such compassion evidenced under the most extreme circumstances calls for a response from us: to love and worship Christ for the work of redemption He has done to reconcile us to God; to repent of the ugliness and violence we do to each other; to exercise mercy and forgiveness toward each other as Christ has done to us.

It made me very aware of my failings as a Christian -- my pettiness, my unfaithfulness -- things that bring the common confession to life: "I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed. I have not loved You with my whole heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself."

I think of the times I have wished for someone to get what he or she deserves. God have mercy on me if we were to get what we deserved. How can I ask mercy for myself and not for my neighbor? "Love one another as I have loved you."

I could feel each stripe from the flog, each nail in the hand and feet, the racking pain as the cross was lifted. This is what I deserve as a miserable member of the human race. But Christ brought us mercy, not justice. The greatest paradox is that "by His stripes we are healed."

God does find in us something worth redeeming.

I can only ask forgiveness, from Christ and from those whom I have wounded in any way.

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