As a member of the Interfaith Coalition, I saw Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" at Market Square Cinema. Rabbi Arthur Starr insightfully arranged an early screening of this controversial movie so that clergy and lay leaders could respond to the uproar this movie is sure to cause.
We of different Faiths came away with very different views of what we had seen. We discussed the movie afterwards in a communal sharing of our impressions.
I left the movie theater stunned, run through an emotional wringer. I had a heavy, dread feeling, as if a parent or my best friend had just died. The acting, the sets, and the special effects were so perfect, I felt like it was a documentary of the real thing, rather than a Hollywood movie. The movie tracks very closely followed the historical and scriptural accounts. Hollywood imagination enters only to fill the gaps in the admittedly sketchy biblical accounts of the last hours before Christ was crucified.
This is a "must see" movie for anyone who knows the Christ story and wants to see it brought to life. It is gory beyond belief, but the cruelty and the barbarism of the times are the real, insane injustices Jesus spent his brief ministry preaching against. It is a story about how inhumanely humans can treat their fellow humans.
The cruel way Jesus was tortured and then crucified moved me to despair. His crime was preaching a new way, that threatened the Judaic establishment of the day. In Jesus' own teaching is found the key to escape from this despair: In the film, we are given only brief glimpses of Christ's teachings, through flashbacks.
Those who are not familiar with the Christ story will therefore find the film confusing and dismal. One must see the film armed with knowledge of the Christian gospel. In effect, the audience must imagine their own pre-quel and sequel in order to make sense of this film.
The big question in the media is "Will this film fuel anti-Semitism?" I dialogued with Rabbi Starr before the film, and was on the lookout for anti-Semitic themes. I saw no hint of anti-Semitic fodder. In this film, the
evil Pharisees are Jewish, helpful Simon is Jewish, the disciples are Jewish, the crowds are Jewish, and the messenger from God is Jewish.
If you end up hating Jews for killing Jesus, then you missed the point of the movie!
After all, Jesus' message is one of forgiveness, and the absolute importance of that which is spiritual over that which is material.
Raised a Methodist, now a Unitarian Universalist, I responded powerfully to this film. Jesus taught a new way, the Essene way, the way of the New Covenant. The gore & horror of this film reminded me how bad things can get, and makes Jesus' new way sparkle with urgency and relevance.
Some of us report a "personal relationship with Jesus." I sense the good, guiding, and sustaining hand of God in my prayers and meditation. However I cannot honestly say that I know Jesus as distinct from God. My experience is that there is one transcendent, creative force that sustains us, however I would be hard-pressed to say that the name is God or Allah or Jehovah or Brahman, for experience can be something of the heart, inaccessible to logic and the spoken word.
I do know Jesus through his teachings, and have no doubt that he bore God's message to humankind when there was great need of it.
The film, "The Passion of the Christ," is sure to be a hot topic in our community in coming weeks. I recommend that you see this film if you want to feel the tremendous emotional impact of Christ's suffering and how it underscores the need to embrace the message of his ministry.
Board member of the Interfaith Coalition
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. John
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