‘The Passion Of The Christ’- A Critical Review

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Huge numbers of students at schools and colleges went to see this movie.  Some were not satisfied with only one viewing; others decided against watching the movie a second time as they were scared to do so.  They were frightened and also suffered insomnia.  Some kept weeping while viewing the film.  But for a few, seeing the film over and over again led them to meditation. I did not cry outwardly while watching the film twice in the theatre.  Following are my thoughts about it:


[1] The Devil appeared as an attractive human being: you could not identify the devil as evil by appearance.  He appeared in the form of a handsome human being with innocent eyes, neither as man nor as woman. He seemed as though he were a friend in Christ?s time of need.  Once I thought that he was an angel who had come to help, protect and encourage Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.


[2] The agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane:  In the Garden of Gethsemane while praying to His heavenly Father, Jesus faces anticipatory grief and suffering.  He sees pain, anguish and grief beyond forbearance.  He therefore prays to His Father: ?Father, if it?s Your will, please take away this chalice [sufferings] from me.?  This prayer touched me very much.  I realized that we human beings are created by God as frail and imperfect beings. We have the devil with his temptations to entice us, we have the world with its modern attractions to draw us towards transgressions, and we have our own flesh with its desires for sin. In addition there are other factors such as our environment, tensions, worries, problems and so on influencing our weak human nature.  Due to these, we may get discouraged, disgusted, frustrated and dejected in life.  In such moments, instead of doubting God?s existence, questioning God?s plan for us or entertaining the doubt that God has completely abandoned us, we should turn to God and entrust ourselves into His hands, and request Him to take care of us and of our situation.  God will surely come to our rescue.  When He does rescue us, we will definitely be aware of it.  How?  We will immediately experience peace of mind.  This peace of mind is a gift that cannot be purchased by dollars.  It has to be granted by God alone and God will give it only to those who ask for it and who surrender themselves completely into His hands. 


[3] The scourging of Jesus: I found the physical degree of the injury, extreme; it was inhuman. If He were only a human being, He would have died during the scourging itself.  Yet this Man, scourged to this extent, was able to walk to Pilate.  From a purely human point of view, it is unbelievable, unthinkable and unimaginable.  It brought to mind Thomas Hobbes? phrase: ?Man is a wolf to another man?.  That seems so true.


[4] What is Truth?  This question was asked by Pilate of Jesus.  Jesus never gave Pilate an answer.  Later Pilate asked his own wife for an explanation.  She tried to make clear the reason as best as she could.  Why did Jesus not answer the question?  I think it is because God is Truth and Truth cannot be defined.  Truth [God] is beyond definition. God is to be experienced. 


[5] Barabas or Jesus: This was an option given by Pilate to the people.  There was a custom of letting a prisoner go free during the Jewish Paschal Feast.  Pilate wanted to release Jesus as he thought that Jesus was innocent. He extended this option to choose between Jesus and Barabas to the people of Jerusalem. Barabas was a notorious robber, criminal and thief. His name caused fear among the inhabitants of Judea.  But to Pilate?s utter surprise, the people chose Barabas.  They further, in a single voice shouted, ?Crucify Jesus.?  When Pilate acceded to the demand, I was very sad.  The choice between a robber, sinner and criminal on one hand and an innocent man on the other hand at first seemed obvious, but it was not to be.  I asked myself, ?What would my feelings have been if I was in Jesus? place at that moment??  If my own feelings would have been so strong, what were Jesus? feelings?  According to Kautilya, ?Only the wearer knows exactly where the shoe is biting.? 


[6] Jesus carrying the cross: Making a man who had taken neither drink nor food after His Last Supper on Holy Thursday, and Who had been scourged nearly to death, carry such a heavy cross through the streets of Jerusalem up to Calvary, was grossly punishing and unjust treatment.  Again, humanly speaking, it was impossible for such a man in such a condition to carry such a cross.  Either the movie exaggerates or there was divine providence at work.  While Jesus was carrying the cross my feelings were – What a difference a few days make!  On Palm Sunday in the same streets of Jerusalem, the same Jesus was taken in procession by the same people as their King.  They kept shouting, ?Hosanna Son of David.?  I noticed something unique in the movie: the author of the film occasionally used contrasting scenes. For example, Palm Sunday is counter posed to the procession where Jesus carries the cross. 


[7] Stripping of the clothes: Jesus was publicly stripped of His clothes on Mount Calvary by the soldiers. In this, only His external dignity was stripped off, not His inner freedom.  His inner freedom remained intact.  My thoughts and feelings at that time were – ?What would my feelings have been if I was in Jesus? place??  I would have been full of emotion, sorrow and shame.  How much pain did He feel when His clothes, which were stuck to His wounds, were pulled off by force?  If I bandage a hurt or wound, I feel great pain when two or three days later the bandage and the gauze is slowly removed.  How great must have been the pain of Jesus!  His body was full of wounds and bruises.


[8] Nailing to the cross: Oh my God!  How cruel it was!  When I am given an injection by a nurse or a doctor, I turn my face away and make so much fuss about it, demonstrating unbearable pain.  I, therefore, can imagine to some small extent the pain, feelings, sufferings and anguish of Christ when He was nailed to the cross.  The soldiers nailed His hands and legs to the cross with an iron hammer.  The nails pierced through His flesh, blood, veins and bones.  Is this not too much for any human being to bear?  I was unable to understand Jesus? endurance.  The scene was such a despicable sight, unthinkable and unimaginable.


[9] Crucifixion: This station brought very many thoughts to my mind.  First of all, hanging on the cross between two thieves for three hours in the hot sun and being mocked and reviled by soldiers and people beneath the cross was torment, besides being a great humiliation in the eyes of the world.  But God knows the Truth.  Once again I pondered the same question: How was it possible for a human being to endure suffering of this kind? We have to recall that He had had His Last Supper with His disciples on Holy Thursday.  He had neither water nor food subsequently.  Where did He find the strength to suffer to the extent He did?  How could He survive that long?



What an example of patience He set while suffering on the cross!  ?Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.?  I can hardly imagine uttering such words at such a moment if I was in such a situation. He never condemned anybody. He, instead, blessed and prayed for them.


?I thirst? [Scisio]: His must have been a real thirst.  Not only the hot sun but the scourging and burden of the cross had added their own torture to it.  What a pity!  There wasn?t anyone to offer Him even a drop of water to drink.  Instead, the soldiers gave Him some wine and vinegar.  I can hardly imagine His feelings at this juncture. He was the one who had quenched the thirst and hunger of so many during His public life by performing miracles. At the foot of the cross there were many, without doubt, who were the beneficiaries of His miracles. None of them came forward or made an attempt to give him an ounce of water to drink.  An example flashed into my mind: ?imagine a boy meets with a serious accident.  His father is away at that moment in a foreign country, earning the daily bread for the family.  The boy just before his death asks for water to drink.  Presume that there are many around him. Nobody gives him water to drink.  What will the boy?s father feel when he comes to know that nobody gave to his son a drop of water to drink before dying??  Didn?t the Father of Jesus feel similarly when His Son was left to die without a drop of water?


[10] Manner of death: After patiently suffering so much He surrenders His freedom and hands over the spirit to the Creator saying, ?Into thy hands O Lord, I commend my spirit.?  What beautiful words!  Could there be better words?  I do not think so.  It was the best of deaths.  He has done whatever He can, suffered as much as He could, and finally leaves Himself in the hands of His Heavenly Father.  Blessed will those be who are able to pass away from this world in such a manner.  I long for such a death.


CRITICAL EVALUATION:


Mel Gibson?s film, The Passion of the Christ, has attracted more publicity than he ever dreamed of; it has had more impact on people?s lives than he had hoped for.  Some viewers have judged it primarily from the viewpoint of cinematography; others from the performing abilities of the actors.  Some have judged it on the basis of its fidelity to the literal text of the Gospels; others have just entered into the experience of it and have let it enhance their sense of Jesus and what He means in their lives.  In many instances, as is appropriate to his media, Gibson uses symbolic actions to explore more deeply the meaning of the reality he depicts.  One of these is the encounter between Jesus and Simon of Cyrene.  From the moment when the Roman soldier pulls him out of the crowd to help Jesus carry His cross until he is summarily dismissed on Calvary?s hill, there is an intimate interaction between this man and Jesus, rarely expressed in words, but much in looks and actions.  Gibson?s portrayal of the bystander from Cyrene, whose small son left on the sidelines watched his father?s soul-stirring conversion and transformation, invites all of us to reflect on our own journey up the path of Calvary.  Gibson so admirably presents the empty shroud and the warm, loving, gently radiant, risen Christ [Father Basil Pennington, OCSO].


Theologically the reason for the death of Jesus is the sins of all people.  He died not just for Catholics or Christians but for all humankind including atheists.  Historically, Jesus was put to death because some of the religious leaders were threatened by His teachings and the Romans did not want any trouble or uprising among the Jews.  The leaders of the people were just doing their job, which was to guard against false messiahs.                   


Jesus died on the cross about 2000 years ago.  Since then science and technology have made great progress.  They have broadened the intellectual horizon of people.  But with reference to the crucifixion of Jesus there are still some narrow-minded people.  They accuse the leaders of His people of crucifying Jesus.  In doing so they forget that the religious leaders were the protectors and defenders of their religion.  Will any religious leader of today keep quiet when his religion is criticized and attacked?  Won?t his religious community listen to him?  I would not keep quiet.  I would do what my religious leaders want me to do in such a situation.  Therefore, I say, what those religious leaders did on that occasion is what would probably be done even today by all the religious heads all over the world if they were placed in that situation.  Let us, therefore, follow the principle: ?Accuse not others lest you be accused by others.? 

Author: Rev. Fr. Robert Crasta


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