The same story told differently
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is the same story told differently, and so our reactions will come from our varying perspectives. While some Jews opposed the film as revealing antisemitism, Muslim countries have allowed its screening because they heard about that Jewish reaction. Some secular authorities presume that the film exalts violence without understanding the real background of the Cross. There are Christians who tore their clothes for what Gibson added to the Gospels’ narrative. The majority, however, are impressed by the message of the film. Testimonies of astounding conversions as a result of watching The Passion have been reported by the press.
Many Seventh-day Adventist congregations in South America were sharing books about the life of Christ near the cinemas where the movie was shown. A special book, Passion of the Ages, was published in the U.S.A., with the last 14 chapters of the book Desire of Ages by Ellen White. The film will be soon available in videos and DVDs, allowing it to be used with personal missionary purposes and in evangelistic meetings.
Some earlier films had presented Jesus as quick-tempered before His opponents or as too kind with the people. Nonetheless, some pastors have shown those films in my evangelistic crusades, to prepare the people to hear the message from the Bible. After the film was presented, I used to say that the actors, as well as ourselves as Christians, cannot always represent worthily the perfect character of the Son of God. I expect to say the same after of a portion of Gibson’s film is projected before my future lectures. The most sensitive ministers may decide to leave out from the movie those scenes that upset them the most.
What to remove?
True, I got tired of the many times Mary appears in the film. However, Mary’s role did not displease my wife. We agreed, however, that it would be better to eliminate as senseless the section where she cleans her Son’s blood that has fallen on the floor, with a cloak given to her by the wife of Pilate. The fact is that the gospels tell that Mary followed her Son to the cross, together with other faithful women.
Some would probably want to delete the devil from the movie. But it is easy to imagine that the devil was even in Gethsemane, together with the demons, trying to discourage the Lord. In other parts of the movie, the devil is well represented as observing everything that occurs. I would remove the representation of demons through children or dwarfs who torment Judas. Also, the final portrayal of the devil as an enraged monster is not the best.
The furious brutality shown in the film against Jesus may upset many. But, were the authorities gentle with the Lord? I was touched by the dignity that the Son of God revealed under provocation and abuse. Some scenes of additional punishment when He bears the cross may be also removed, because they are not in the gospels. Even so, the book Desire of Ages—an inspired and masterful biography-—depicts some soldiers sharing in the mockery and mistreatment of Jesus by the people, as well as some other Romans protecting Him from the multitude who want to lynch Him on His way to Calvary.
The love of the Son of God for His worst enemies is clearly portrayed in The Passion, condemning implicitly all kinds of “Christian” genocide. The divine forbearance and self-denial which we must possess as true Christians when we are slandered and persecuted, the noble example of self-control under harassment and insult-—all this and much more appear powerfully in Gibson’s movie.
Jesus stamping the serpent, although not literally biblical, conveys the triumph of Christ over Satan (see Genesis 3:15; Revelation 12:9). Contrary to the political ambitions of his church, Gibson shows us that the kingdom of the Lord is not of this world. He also leads us to face the suffering of the Son of God through the look of Judas, Peter, Mary, and the sinner woman whom he rightly identifies with Mary Magdalene (see Desire of Ages, p. 568).
What the film lacks
We cannot require Gibson to include everything we would like to see in his film. John wrote the last Gospel because he felt that many important events were not included in the former ones. But he had to acknowledge that “the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” to complete the story (John 21:25, NIV). In addition, the Epistles and the book of Revelation were needed to explain and project toward the end of the world the story of the Cross. Let us then tell others what is lacking in Gibson’s movie. Let others, too, complement our testimony with their own experience, because no one will be able to exhaust that story. “The cross of Christ will be the science and the song of the redeemed through all eternity” (Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p. 651).
Alberto R. Treiyer (D.R.S., University of Strasbourg) is a theologian, evangelist, and author of several books and articles. His website: www.tagnet.org/distinctivemessages.