Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ is playing to record box office levels. It has grossed $125M so far, and $41M of it was made during the middle of a workweek. I am not surprised by the box office take. Of course Christians are going to want to see a convincing movie about Jesus, providing it sticks close to the gospels (as this movie reputedly does). Goodness, there are about 1.7 billion Christians worldwide. That’s a huge market. The theaters will be packed for a very long time.
I wonder what Jesus would think of Mel Gibson’s movie. I have no idea how accurate is his depiction of Jesus’ death and suffering. Certainly as an evangelical work it is likelier to bring in new converts then turn them away. It is also likely to make those who are already Christians that much firmer in their convictions.
Still, I have to wonder whether Jesus would cast a jaundiced eye at Mel for this movie. The movie will undoubtedly make Gibson obscenely wealthy. I wonder what Jesus would think of all the merchandising tie-ins to the movie. What’s that you say? Mel would not be so base as act like one of those moneychangers at the temple at whom Jesus swore? Think again. You too can share the passion of the Christ. A 24-inch leather pendant with a two-inch pewter nail can be had for only $16.99, plus shipping and handling, along with many other fine movie memorabilia officially authorized by Mel. Yes, Jesus apparently now has his own personal designer, a man named Bob Siemon. Please Mel, share the Passion of the Christ. Maybe some of your millions in profits will go to missionary works. But doubtless you could use a few dozen new Mercedes in your driveway. A second home in Malibu would be nice too. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
I do not watch violent movies as a rule so I know I will give this movie a pass. I cannot rate the movie except I know that in my case it would be high up there on my vomit score. I’d have to bring an airsick bag. Spending two hours watching anyone being slowly and methodically tortured then allowed to die of blood loss and asphyxiation doesn’t inspire any passion in me. The fact that the man might have been divine wouldn’t change the situation. Graphic violence makes me feel sick, not holy.
I do strongly suspect though that whatever the truth of Jesus is, it can’t be found in this movie. In fact what we really know about the historical Jesus of Nazareth is really very scanty. There is little evidence outside of the Christian world that Jesus even existed. Nonetheless I do think Jesus existed – it’s a logical application of the Occam’s Razor principle. I just doubt he was divine, at least in the same way that Christians think he is divine.
No I don’t think Jesus was divine. And I’m afraid I don’t believe in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. I don’t think he cured the blind. I don’t think he walked on the Sea of Galilee. I do think that Jesus was something of a radical for his time. I think it is likely that when he developed a following of a sufficient size he was tried and put to death because his thoughts were considered dangerous to the social order. I don’t believe he was resurrected.
But do I think that Jesus, if he existed, was not extraordinary? Not at all. If I have a nit to pick with Christians it is that I believe they have lost the message of Jesus somewhere among all the mythology and millenniums since his life. The essence of Jesus is not that he died and was resurrected from the dead. It is not that he died for our sins. For me the amazing thing about the historic Jesus is that he was the first person to popularize the meme that all men are brothers.
This is a lesson that we are still trying to absorb. Jesus was not the first to teach universal brotherhood. But his messy death might well have been the catalyst to make the dream catch fire. I also think that mankind was at a point in its evolution where, with the right kind of match, the dream could catch fire. Jesus was the match. If his horrific death was self directed it might have been a gamble to begin the ascent of man not toward God, but to become the species it has always had the potential to be.
Yahweh was literally the god of the Jews, one among many. Back then each tribe or nation had their own god, gods or goddesses, which blessed and protected them from their enemies. It is clear from reading the Old Testament that Jews believed that Yahweh blessed and protected them. The Old Testament is the story of the Jewish people. In the New Testament, Yahweh is reborn as a universal God that loved all and accepted all. Jesus told the same stories again and again: that all men are brothers. Love is universal. We are more than our material selves. No transgression is beyond redemption. No man is more special than any other man. All are equally worthy and equally loved. Peace is found from within, not from the outside.
I find it strange that much of this message is lost or discounted by modern Christians. Much of their interpretation of Jesus would I think leave him scratching his head in puzzlement. I think he would be very surprised to be told he was a divine creature. As best I can tell Jesus never says that he was God. In the gospels he is often asked if he is the Son of God. He replies instead that he is the Son of Man. What this means is open to interpretation but it hardly suggests he thought he was divine. To me it says that Jesus was suggesting that he was mankind as it could be in some future generation. He was mankind devoid of the hate, the pettiness and the narrow mindedness that makes up so much of our lives.
To me Jesus’ message was this: mankind could pick itself up by its bootstraps. It could improve itself. Life didn’t have to be about famine, war and misery. By working together and through coming to love and understand one another we could lift all boats. We could be the species we were meant to be. We could all become the Son of Man.
He warned us that to do it we didn’t need to consult the holy books. We need to stay away from the hypocrites at the temples and the pious. We need to draw inward. We need to pray in our closets … in other words we need to meditate. We need to look at our world and each other with a new set of psychic glasses. We need to have the courage to rise above our bestial nature. We need to look to the future with hope, with love, with vision, with compassion and with resolve. Then all men will evolve. We will all become Sons of Man. We will crawl out of our swamp and ascend into a higher plain of our evolution.
To me these ideas are breath taking. I don’t need Jesus to die and be resurrected to affirm my beliefs in the correctness of these ideas. They are right. I feel it in my heart. But what does this make me? I don’t think it makes me a Christian in any sense of the word. I don’t believe Jesus was divine. I think Jesus was a brilliant philosopher and teacher, a rabbi in the best sense of the word. I don’t think he was sent by God to save us. If Jesus was sent by anyone, we sent him. Our collective angst and desire may have spawned a moment of unique energy, which was Jesus. He became our evolutionary agent. He was the consciousness of mankind that woke us from our despair, our bitterness and our lethargy. He made us stand up, look at the world and realize “Hey, it’s all up to us. We will be what we choose to be.”
So perhaps I am a follower of Jesus. I am not a Christian. But I am a believer in some much larger cosmic plan he was a catalyst to move us forward toward a brighter future.
If I were to direct a movie about the meaning of Jesus then this would be its message. But I’m not sure it is what we want to hear.