‘Passion’ won’t create anti-Semites

Mel Gibson says he understands that his latest directed film about Jesus’ last hours on earth may be “a career killer.” But the actor, director and producer declared, “I don’t care.”

Good for him.

I have to respect a man who has that much passion for his faith and who believes so strongly in a project that he’s willing to put his career on the line. He has suffered for it, and he believes that “the worst is yet to come.”

Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ,” has been embroiled in controversy ever since some Jewish and liberal Christian groups suggested that its true-to-the-Bible script may ignite another wave of anti-Semitism.

The charge of being anti-Semitic already has been leveled against Gibson, and it is the one charge that is the most difficult to defend oneself against. Aside from denying it, Gibson has said little about the absurd allegations, rightly deciding to let his life and his work speak for themselves.

The Academy Award-winning actor, a devout Catholic, had wanted to do this film for a long time. Realizing the difficulty of getting it made, Gibson spent $25 million of his own money to produce it. He wrote the script, and he is the movie’s director.

In an attempt to make the film even more authentic, the characters speak Latin and Aramaic, two languages of the day, with English subtitles provided.

I haven’t seen the movie, which carries an R rating for its graphic portrayal of the scourging and crucifixion scenes. The few clips I have viewed reveal the bloodiest Jesus I have ever seen on screen.

The objections center on the notion that although the Romans carried out the execution of Christ, it was the Jewish leadership and an enraged crowd that insisted on it, according to the Gospels.

Some Jewish organizations particularly wanted Gibson to remove that scripturally-based passage that blames those Jews present at his trial for the death of Jesus.

The account, recorded in the book of Matthew, describes the troubled Roman governor Pilate facing an angry mob that wants to see Jesus punished. In a plan that backfires, Pilate decides to free one prisoner and gives the crowd a choice of releasing the innocent Jesus or the notorious criminal Barabbas.

The crowd repeatedly shouts, “Give us Barabbas!”

Matthew 27:24-25 reads: “When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.’

“And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.”‘

The American Jewish Committee, in a statement released last week, said it sees the movie as “a disturbing setback to the remarkable achievements in Christian-Jewish relations over the past 40 years.”

What critics should realize is that their protests probably have assured the film’s success. It has gotten a lot of publicity and it has people dividing into camps. There has been a flurry of private screenings, and there appears to be a groundswell of support for the film.

Pope John Paul II has seen the film, and although the Vatican says the pope has made no official statement regarding “The Passion,” there was an early report quoting the pontiff as saying, “It is as it was.” To many, that was a powerful endorsement.

When the movie opens on 2,000 screens Feb. 25 (Ash Wednesday), I expect it to be a box-office success, and it is likely to become an instant classic. Many Catholics and conservative Protestants are already buying large blocks of tickets in advance.

One Dallas-area man has bought out a multiplex theater in Plano for the morning of the opening and will show the movie to 6,000 of his fellow Baptist church members and theology students.

If anyone goes to see this film and comes away hating Jews, then that person had a serious problem long before this movie was made. I’ve long been a fan of the biblical epic, whether based on Old Testament or New Testament characters. Not one has ever changed my spiritual beliefs or caused me to discriminate against another human being.

In a time when bigotry – especially religious bigotry – still haunts many people on this earth, I can understand why some are anxious about any event that might kindle such feelings.

But it is important that while a few search for negative meanings in this depiction of Jesus’ suffering, the true Christians will be focused on the most significant teaching of the Gospel, namely “love.”

They surely will pass on the real message of the Gospel and remind others of something Jesus said from the cross:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Vacation? Short break? Day trip? Get Skip-the-line tickets at GetYourGuide.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, USA
Feb. 5, 2004 Opinion
Bob Ray Sanders

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday February 5, 2004.
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