In my 25 years of living, I cannot remember a film more controversial than Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” The media attention is phenomenal, the religious conversation is ceaseless, Mel Gibson is constantly attacked, and after all is said and done I am not sure most of us will truly understand what is happening through this film.
Recently I have read numerous articles, watched television specials, and listened to radio interviews of religious leaders, Hollywood stars, intellectuals, and common people discuss the film. One fact that remains the same is this film is not truly about Mel Gibson’s personal convictions. It is not about the claims of many Jews that the film is anti-Semitic, nor that it is a loose interpretation of the Gospels. It is controversial because Jesus has always been controversial.
Jesus has been amidst controversy since his story began. He has been banned from schools, governments and even entire countries. Belief in him has evoked persecution, executions, and even wars. On the contrary, he has changed lives, families, towns, states, and even countries. For the last 2,000 years he has had a major impact on every aspect of life.
As a Christian, I am not really surprised by the attention. During his ministry, Jesus challenged many of the accepted traditions of his times and attracted both those who admired him and those who hated him.
People have always been troubled by Jesus. We should be. He’s unlike any other figure in history. He’s the most unique religious figure of all time. He’s the antithesis to the world’s standards and this troubles us.
There have been numerous films made of Jesus. Each in its own accord tells the story of Jesus and includes the sufferings of Christ in his last hours. What makes this film different? Obviously, the violent and realistic portrayal of Christ’s brutal beatings, crown of thorns, and execution.
The film has gained attention because it was produced and paid for by one of Hollywood’s most liked and well known actors. And because as humans we tend to find anything that threatens our norm to be offensive and dangerous.
But I believe the true reason still lies in the fact that even more in our modern society than ever, Jesus contradicts the world’s standards and leaves us feeling uncomfortable with who we are.
There will always be an ongoing battle between man and his sinful nature. The Christian faith challenges every aspect of life and in doing so becomes a topic of debate.
Love your enemy. (Luke 6:27) Turn the other cheek. (Luke 6:29) Forgive those who don’t really deserve it. (Colossians 3:13) Don’t be judgmental. (Luke 6:37) God loves you and sent Jesus to die for you. (John 3:16)
These sayings are hard for many to accept. Human nature causes us to react by instinct. When threatened, fight. If you are hurt, hurt back. If someone does something to hurt you, hate them. This is the world’s perspective.
The film is controversial because it portrays Christ in the most important event of our time. His death was not brought about by man’s evil intention regardless of where the blame is put. His death was preordained by God the Father in order that sinful man could be redeemed and spend eternity with him in heaven.
On the third day after his death, Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus bridged the gap that we could not fill and provided hope through his grace and mercy.
The bottom line is that God uses many vessels to display his love for us. So should we be shocked by the debates that have raged and will rage on? Absolutely not.
God is using this film. I must admit that I am glad these debates have raged. When television and radio stations and magazines devote space to this film, they are exposing more people to Jesus. Any opportunity that exists to talk about Jesus is readily accepted.
The film has already been successful. It doesn’t need the backing of awards, money, or even acceptance from film critics or historians.
God’s will has been done.
More people have opened their Bibles because of this film, attended church, or even spoke openly with a stranger about Jesus than in times past. And all of this comes before most of us have even seen the film.
This film is a success because it poses the real controversy as a personal one. In the end it comes down to the one question that Jesus has always asked:
“But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
Chris Horton is a Portales resident and member of Portales’ First Baptist Church. Contact him at 356-0900.