By Jack Kinsella
I watched the movie, The Passion of the Christ, for the first time. It’s old news. But I never could screw up the courage to see an event visually depicted that chokes me up merely to hear it described.
It took me five years, but I finally shamed myself into it by reminding myself that what He endured, He endured on my behalf, because He knew I couldn’t. I didn’t even have the courage to observe…
When the film was made, there was something in it for everybody to hate.
There was much ado about Mel Gibson’s alleged anti-Semitism together with the charge that his anti-Semitism was well-reflected in the film.
The evil of the Sanhedrin as headed by Caiaphas ben Joseph was hardly exaggerated. That the Pharisees hated Jesus is well-documented. The ‘mitigating’ factor, ie: the sacrifice of one man to prevent a bloody popular uprising against the Romans, was well-represented in the film.
The vicious beatings, the spitting, the abuse and indignity depicted at His trial before the Sanhedrin at the house of Caiaphas and, later, before Herod, all occurred as depicted.
The Jewish crowds in the film chose Barabbas the murderer over Jesus. They shouted “Crucify Him” – even after Pilate presented Him, torn and bloodied, and pleaded with them for mercy.
It wasn’t anti-Semitic. That’s how the Bible said it happened.
The crowds that lined the Via Dolorosa as He carried His cross were a mix of His followers and His enemies, pretty much in line with the way the Scripture portrayed it.
The Romans were no less evil; the scourging scene was the most brutal scene I’ve ever witnessed. It seemed to me a fairly even-handed treatment; everybody was equally guilty.
The film showed Pilate’s reluctance for what it was; not compassion, but a self-serving fear of Rome, should his decision spark another uprising. Pilate’s symbolic hand-washing absolved him of nothing.
“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” (Luke 23:34)
The Passion of the Christ was prewritten in history – the entire passion story was written by David centuries before crucifixion was invented by the Persians.
“For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” (Psalms 22:16-18)
Think about what this means. It means that somebody, somewhere in time, had to fill the roles necessary. They had to live in that place, at that time, and once events unfolded, each had to do what they had to do, not knowing what it was.
And so, when they had fulfilled their destinies (and those of all mankind) Jesus forgave them from the Cross, saying specifically, “for they know not what they do.”
One can no more blame the Jews for the Crucifixion than one can the Italians. We’re all guilty. If the Lord’s forgiveness wasn’t good enough for them then, then how can it be good enough for me now?
As I watched the film, I got to thinking about all the other supporting characters. Simon the Cyrene, the man who was pressed into service to help Jesus carry His Cross, for example.
He was a flesh-and-blood man of the time whose name we know only because of where he was that Passover 2,000 years ago.
Or the two thieves, both of whom were crucified with Him. Who were they? What did they do? None of those things are important to history. They were thieves. What is important is their proximity to Jesus Christ.
What about Jesus Himself? What did He do?
He didn’t build any great cities. He never ruled an empire. He never wrote a book. He never made any great discoveries. He was just a laborer that lived in a tiny village in a tiny corner of occupied Rome.
As far as is known, He never did anything particularly remarkable during His first thirty years. Although He lived during a period of great civil unrest, He was not a political leader. He took no sides.
He foreswore resistance and taught that this life was only a stepping-stone to the next and not really worth worrying about.
On the other hand, Pontius Pilate was a real man who rose to the pinnacle of his profession as procurator of an entire Roman protectorate.
Caiaphas ben-Joseph was an accomplished man of letters. As a Pharisee, he was a lawyer. The Sanhedrin is the Jewish Supreme Court and Caiaphas ben Joseph became its Chief Justice.
Both were real men who actually lived accomplished lives in their own right, but had their lives not intersected with the laborer from Nazareth, nobody would know or care if they ever existed, despite recent archeological digs confirming both.
(Pilate’s name was found on a plaque in Ceasara in 1965 and Caiapha’s ossuary was unearthed in Jerusalem in 1992.)
But Jesus…He was only a laborer from Nazareth that was unjustly tried as a religious blasphemer and political subversive and wrongly executed as a common criminal.
It wasn’t that His crucifixion was all that unusual or even that remarkable. It shouldn’t have stood out, given the time in which He lived.
History tells of the road to Rome being lined with the crosses of more than six thousand slaves executed in the slave rebellion led by Spartacus in 73 BC. Crucifixions were conducted throughout the Empire on a daily basis and mass crucifixions were common occurrences.
Jesus said things, but He never wrote down a word of His own. He performed miracles, but history is replete with alleged miracle-workers. In the natural, His single greatest accomplishment in His lifetime was to so anger the civil authorities that they had Him put to death.
So what is there about Jesus? When I was at my most skeptical, that question always haunted me. I thought I had all the reasons necessary not to believe in Him, but the question that nagged at me was why so many others did?
In historical terms, He was just a carpenter from antiquity executed along with uncounted thousands of others by the Roman authorities. Yet Jesus isn’t revered as a prophet from God, or a holy man, but as God incarnate!
Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah, “As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:” (Isaiah 52:14)
I’ve seen Jim Caviezel, the actor that played Jesus, in a number of movies. By the conclusion of the Passion film, after being made up to mimic the beating endured by Jesus, he was unrecognizable.
That is what there is about Jesus that makes Him a God above every ‘god’. The Face in the Shroud, torn, battered, beaten and abused – that is the only Face of God mortal man has ever seen.
He chose to reveal Himself, not as a conquering King and Creator of the Universe, but as laborer, a nobody, a Man so “wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities” that His Face ‘astonied’ the Prophet Isaiah 500 years before the fact.
You couldn’t make something like this up. Nobody would believe it.
It has to be true.