Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.” –2 Peter 3:16
What was Mel Gibson thinking about when he made his magnum opus?
If you are like me, or most other Catholics I know, you will see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ at least once during Lent and before Easter.
Well, this time around, I earnestly request you as a family or as a group of Jesus-loving Catholics or\and Christians, to see it together and thereafter have a discussion on the five questions I am posing.
Before that, the backdrop of The Passion of the Christ: Mel Gibson, a devout Roman Catholic, in interviews splashed all over the world on the day of the film’s release (Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004) in thousands of theaters in many countries, stated clearly his purpose for making the movie:
- “It reflects my beliefs.”
- “There is no salvation for those outside the [Roman Catholic] Church.”
- “It is possible for people who are not even Christian to get into the kingdom of heaven.”
The acclaim the film got was overwhelming. From the Vatican, Pope John Paul II endorsed the film (in National Review) in five simple words: “It is as it was.”
Apart from the Catholic community, there were evangelical leaders and pastors such as Billy Graham, James Dobson, Lee Strobel, and Rick Warren who called the movie “the best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years!” For the purpose of those who may not be acquainted with Christian jargon, may I explain that “outreach” is a method or event through which you draw souls to Jesus Christ.
BIBLE NOT THE SOURCE...
What is the movie based on? The biblical descriptions of the passion of Christ? No. Mel Gibson was honest about this and said so during an interview given to the Roman Catholic TV station EWTN. He talked about a mystical Roman Catholic book written by an 18th century nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, entitled The Dolorous Passion of Christ, was his main inspiration for making the movie. That explains the movie’s fixation with demons, artistic blood-chilling backdrops, in fact the entire film is soaked in a blood bath, where Jesus’ body is constantly beaten, whipped, kicked, spit on, and slapped. His flesh is literally flayed with metal-tipped whips by sadistic Roman soldiers who compete among themselves for inflicting the most devastating blows. In fact, after the first flogging, Mother Mary attempts to clean the flesh and blood lying on the pavement of Pilate’s courtyard. At the end, poor Jesus’ body is so mangled, bruised, and disfigured that it reminds of chicken I put in the meat grinder.
You probably heard about the controversy over one scene (or actually one line) in the film: It comes after Jesus has been resent to Pilate and Pilate states that he could not find any crime that Jesus had committed. Pilate washes his hands and says, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” In Matthew 27:25, the crowd says, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” There was deep concern whether or not the inclusion of this line would incite anti-Semitism. The film dialogues are in Latin, Aramaic, and Hebrew, with English sub-titles.
TRUTH SHOULD NOT BE VELVET-GLOVED...
There had been centuries of oppression, mass murders and genocides of Jews. In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church repudiated these teachings at the Second Vatican Council: In “Nostra Aetate,” a “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions’, it is clearly stated that “neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor all Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his (Jesus Christ’s) passion."After receiving criticism from some religious leaders who previewed an early version of the movie, Gibson decided to delete the English subtitles for this passage. However, the words are still heard in Aramaic. If, as he claimed, Mel was really guided by the Holy Spirit when he made the film, why did he leave out that sub title, whether or not it sounded offensive to the Jews. The Gospel message about the consequences of sin sounds extremely offensive to many we share it with, but we know we do not have the liberty to water it down.
I must be honest that I cannot count the number of times I have seen The Passion of the Christ. In addition, in my heart, Mel Gibson became the greatest filmmaker on earth, and a few planets beyond. No matter what he did after that and the number of times he got into trouble with the law, I felt he would one day be canonized as the greatest saint ever in the Catholic Church. I saw Brave Heart for the first time very recently and loved him all the more. When flashes of him appeared during the recent Oscars Award function, I shamelessly shouted, “I love Mel Gibson.” My daughter sitting with me, began the list of anti-social activities he has been recently involved with. I closed my ears and said, “But he made The Passion of the Christ. He should be forgiven, without punishment.”
WHAT CHANGED EVERYTHING...
Lent. (The 40-day season of meditation repentance before the feast of Easter\the Resurrection of Christ.)
However, this time, I am seeing The Passion of the Christ with a companion – the Bible. You too please take out your copy of the New Living Translation Catholic Edition Bible and let us see the film together.
Level the ground first. If you are seeing the film as an ‘entertainment’ or ‘emotion-rousing’ endeavor, then fine, there is no problem, no debate. Stop reading this blog. Enjoy the film, good night, and sweet dreams.
However, if we want to call The Passion of the Christ a “spiritual” film, it has to pass the Biblical test. I have with me my NLTCE, and here are my five questions:
Are we allowed to play about with the Bible as a ‘means to an end’? These scenes may seem harmless. However, by having scenes of Jesus as a young child or teasing and playing with His mother and splashing water at her, is Gibson taking liberty with the Word of God. Some say that is a filmmaker’s right and license. (Likewise with the scenes of the attractive female devil.) So then, how should we deal with the warning in Revelation 22:18-19? “If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.”
- The filmmaker believes that it is possible for non-Christians and non-Catholics to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Then why does my NLTCE, in Acts 4:12 inform me: “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name (apart from the Name of Jesus Christ) under heaven by which we must be saved.” Does this mean that Gibson’s film is unbiblical, and if it is, Should I be seeing it or taking my friends to see it in the hope they will be convicted for Christ?
- Are we secretly afraid that if, while evangelizing, we trust only in the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, it will not be enough to share with the unsaved to wake them up to the reality that there is no salvation apart from Christ. FYI, many Hindus know and believe this, which is why, according to the Sanathan Dharma (you can choose your own route to salvation but stick to it), they have selected Jesus Christ. Why, in God’s name, do we mistakenly believe that it is easier to invite an unsaved person to see a movie or a concert rather than to talk to them or ask them about their spiritual condition and their need of Christ? My NLTCE does not say on any of its 1528 pages, that we need movies, plays, and concerts for outreach. The Bible, as far as I can see, never calls us to do that but rather to share the Gospel. Where in my NLTCE do we see the Apostles using a play or a concert to reach the lost? We need to confront those who have not yet heard the Gospel, including unbelieving friends and relatives, with their sin and the consequences of those sins (eternal wrath and torment) and then to give them the solution which is – Jesus Christ, the Only Savior of the world.
- Okay, Okay, I can hear your answer to that, and being a media person, I agree that if we can use different limbs of media to artistically display an important message, it could enhance it. I think the No Smoking ads in India, are brilliant, very effective to make smokers pause and reconsider – especially the conclusion: SMOKING WILL (visual of penalty receipt, with seal, and sound of gavel or hammer – knock-knock!) COST YOU. However, When dealing with the Word of God, have we not to be careful with the kind of liberties we take? You probably are aware that the movie is “R” rated and has restricted viewing because of the extreme violence. For 2 hours, it focuses on the violent physical sufferings of Christ, and gives exactly 12 seconds on the Resurrection! Look at NLTCE John 21:25 where the disciple Jesus loved, who wrote the Gospel, states about his cousin: “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” Note the simplicity of the NLTCE, it really does give an easy understanding to the Word of God. Add to this Scripture, what is written in II Timothy 3:16 about every word of Scripture being “inspired by God.” I do not need to be an English honors graduate (which in fact I am, and with a position in the University:) to know that this implies that God chose exactly what He wanted written about Christ and His life and passion. God did not focus on the violent side of it, but rather on the purpose of the death of Jesus, which was the salvation of all who come to Christ by repenting of their sins; Believing that Jesus was who He claimed to be; and by Submitting to His Lordship, would gain reconciliation with God. Mel Gibson intentionally has made the movie as violent as he can.
- Darling Mel, (you still remain my favorite filmmaker … but Christian or biblical filmmaker you are certainly NOT) that is what pinches me the most, that you did it deliberately. You know that in the past three decades, most popular are those Hollywood movies which depict extreme violence, for they seem at some perverted level, to satisfy the heart of man in global society today. So, is not Mel Gibson using the suffering of Jesus Christ as entertainment for moviegoers to make a profit, which is a kind of blasphemy in itself? Hey, people (readers), I am not assuming this; Mel, the man who may or may not got to hell, says it in his own words. Go to YouTube and dig up Mel Gibson’s interview given to CNN, on Sunday, February 15, 2004, and hear him declare: “The film is very violent, and if you don’t like it, don’t go. That is it. If you want to leave halfway through, go ahead. You know, there is nothing that says you have to stay. I wanted it to be shocking. In addition, I wanted it to be extreme. I wanted it to push the viewer over the edge. And it does that.” I can almost see him licking his lips like the cat that got the cream.
Believe me; I have researched a lot on Mel Gib after I got hooked on him because of The Passion of the Christ. I realize, in retrospect, that nowhere in his pre- or post publicity for the film does the filmmaker talk about a love for Christ or a desire to bring souls to the saving grace that is there in Christ alone. The movie displays an amazing lack of context, since at no time of viewing it, does Gibson explain even once, why Jesus was suffering, or why the Jews wanted Him dead, and what was the eventual glorious result.
Grievous sin of taking things "out of context"...
To take things out of context and present that as a unit in themselves is one of the travesties of journalism and media. It can be enormously damaging and damage relationships and reality. Let us consider the passage dealing with Mary's conception: (1) The angel appears to Mary and informs her she is going to have a child. (2) Mary is a bit taken aback as she is not only engaged to a good man, but has also not had any intimate encounter with man. (3) The angel reassures her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive. (4) Mary may have not comprehended the height, depth, breadth and width of the commitment she was making, but being a godly woman, she agreed to the divine plan. (5) When Joseph discovers his fiance is with child, he is all set to divorce her quietly. (6) However, an angel appears to him in a dream and coaxes him not to do it as the child was God's, conceived by the Holy Spirit. (7) So Joseph becomes a partner of the plan and does not divorce his pregnant-but-not-by-him fiance. (8) Happy first Christmas day.
Now imagine you, I, or Mel Gibson making a film (a unit in itself) with no hint even in brief of above-mentioned points 1,2,3, or 4. Our screenplay starts straightaway with point 5 - very dramatic, very gallery-inclined and indulgent, with the creative imagining with expanded latitude and longitude and the poetic license of imagination of the conversations that may have taken place between the aghast Joseph and his pregnant fiance for over 2 hours. Sure the scriptwriter will touch briefly on points 6 & 7 in the end, and then conclude with a flash-on flash-off visual of a baby in a crib. Will this kind of a visual narrative make sense to those who have never read the Bible or are not full acquainted with the tough and tender intricacies of how Jesus was conceived . Will not even Joseph's dream and decision, in point 6 and 7 come across like something out of Aesop's fables and point 8 like a bit of a farcical, weak conclusion? Ultimately, will not the complete absence of points 1,2,3, and 4 have destroyed the power and potential of point 8?
That is the error Mel Gibson has made with The Passion of the Christ. He has presented an excerpt of a vast passage without giving its amazing beginning and splendid culmination.
G(l)ibson's dodgy dispensation...
What Mel Gibsom focuses more on, is Satan and demons believing they were finally destroying Jesus Christ – he gives them some delightful close-up footage while the worst is happening. That is what comes across at the film’s climax – that Satan has won, and my inner eye makes me almost see Satan and his minions once again rejoicing at the release of The Passion of the Christ as they see the world glued to their greatest moment, and they dance and sing, “We finally made it to the big screen!” (Something like Charles Manson's followers saying, “Our Charlie made it to the cover of TIME," in Helter Skelter.)
Nowhere, not in a single scene of the film has the Gospel been shared. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” –I Corinthians 15 … THIS IS THE GOSPEL, remember that, even when you are giving your personal testimonies, if you have not shared this, you have not shared the Gospel, you have only shared your life story but you are not witnessing for Christ. Without 1 Corinthians 15 in it, what you share does not qualify as Gospel sharing.
Honestly ask yourself, if 12 seconds of quick flash of beautiful, muscular male thigh, (meant to denote the resurrection), are sufficient to erase the horror of the 2 hours of brutality before that? Where does our faith and hope lie? In the passion of Christ or in His Resurrection? Poor darling Mel got his ratios of footage space terribly wrong. Somebody, send him back to film school.
Please proceed with the discussion I spoke about at the beginning of this article, and to the five questions above, add this sixth one: Do you know anyone who saw The Passion of the Christ and turned to The Lord for salvation?
PS: I still love MG, make no mistake about that. However, I am sensitive to depictions of Christ and distortions of the Bible.
by Ingrid Albuquerque
Ingrid Albuquerque-Solomon is an author, mainstream media writer, and theologian. She currently serves as Content Provider for Haggai Institute International, Consultant for Berean Bay Media House, facilitates weekly Bible studies for The Association For Theological Education through Extension (TAFTEE), and writes Christian devotionals tailored to meet the everyday needs of different Christian organizations