Friday, April 14, 2006

The Passion of the Christ

My daughter and I observed Good Friday with Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. Despite the excessiveness of the portrayal of the physical punishment that Jesus absorbed - no one could have survived what Gibson depicts in the flogging scene, much less all the other punches and maltreatment - and despite the cavils of those critics who thought the movie was anti-semitic, I think it's a powerful and important depiction of what is perhaps the most critical event in all of history. Indeed, Jesus' death would doubtless be the most momentous event ever recorded even if Christians are mistaken about his divinity.

One of the most powerful scenes in the movie, in my opinion, was at the end when Jesus has been taken down from the cross and Mary (Maia Morgenstern) cradles his body in her lap. She stares out at the camera - not at the Romans, not at the Jews but at the viewer -with a look on her face that says, "See what you have done!" The camera holds her in that stare for several moments and the effect is gripping. The bloody, shredded body of Jesus is a consequence not merely of the perfidy of the Pharisees and the brutality of the Romans, but of the selfishness and cruelty that lies in the heart of each of us. It was not just Peter who disavowed him and not just Judas who sold him out. It was each of us, and Mary's silent gaze convicts us of our guilt more effectively than could 10,000 words.

In Christian theology, Jesus endured the hell of crucifixion so that each of us might have our hearts washed clean of the selfishness, pride, carnality, and hurtfulness they harbor. The cross presses upon us a forced option, an inescapable question: How do we respond to this astonishing act of complete selflessness?