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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Mel Gibson's "Passion" Movie

I didn't want to go, but my position as a Rabbi, and especially as a Messianic Rabbi, obliged me to go see "The Passion of the Christ." I saw it last night.

On the basis of the reports of others, I had dire expectations about the film. But I knew I could not rightly hold to my opinions without going and seeing for myself. The film exceeded by expectations--sadly so.

I do not hold against Mel Gibson the fact that he made a hard-right Roman Catholic portrayal of the events. For that is who he is: a hard-right Roman Catholic. He is to be commended for his laser-like intentionality doing exactly what he set out to do: to desanitize the scourging and crucifixion of Yeshua so that people would have a deep visceral sense of just what we mean by scourging and crucifixion. Although there are perhaps a half dozen flashbacks in the film which take us earlier in Yeshua's life, they do not last more than a minute, and they do not detract from the fact that the film is essentially two hours of merciless, sadistic, cruel beatings, whippings, flayings and crucifixion--two hours of torture. That is what the film set out to do and that is what it did masterfully.

Spiritually the film had two benefits for me. It caused me to appreciate the decision Yeshua made to do the will of God for the sake of humanity's good, doing that will to the end despite the horrific moment by moment excruciating cost. It caused me to evaluate myself: "How willing am I to do the will of G-d despite the cost to myself? At what points do I wimp out?" Secondly, the film made Yeshua's cries of "Father forgive them, they know not what they do," to be astounding and penetrating. Forgiveness in the midst of excruciating pain is astounding--and personally challenging in the extreme.

Yet, the focus of the film was butchery and brutality.

But that is not my objection. What is appalling in the film, and what made me at first uncomfortable and later angry, was the monolithic, one-dimensional and generalized portrayal of the Jewish people, its priesthood and the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin and the priesthood of Israel is portrayed as devoid of any spirituality, as a kind of heartless, soulless religious Mafia. The fact that one member of the Sanhedrin protests the kangaroo court proceedings of Yeshua's trial only makes the generalization that much more indelible: that the religious leaders of Israel were soulless, worthless, brutal, devilish thugs. The portrayal of the ENTIRE population of Jerusalem was no better. The crowd, whether in the courts of the Temple, in Pilate's courtyard, or on the streets on the way to the crucifixion, are a study is blood-lust, like the crowds at the Roman Coliseum crying out for blood and death. The film portrays the Jewish people and their religious leaders as spiritually bankrupt and morally repugnant. The fact that they used the Roman soldiery, also portrayed one dimensionally, as the means of execution, in no way mitigates the monolithic impression that the Jews killed the Messiah, and their religious leaders were worthless thugs, leaders of the murderous mob.

Again, there are a handful of figures in the film who are exceptions: one or two soldiers who seem troubled by the brutality and touched by Jesus' mother's suffering and his purity in suffering; the apocryphal St. Veronica, a Jew, who rushes to give Yeshua a drink of water; a few sentimental women along the Via Dolorosa crying out for someone to stop the butchery being carried out before their eyes. But these few exceptions only make the generalizations more stark. The Roman soldiers were heartless psychopaths, the Jews as a whole blood-thirsty baying hounds, the Jewish leaders spiritually bankrupt corrupt gangsters. And Yeshua is a noble victim, obedient to the end.

Nothing in the movie made Yeshua seem to be an option for self-identified Jews, but only for Jews prepared to turn their backs on their people and their leaders. This is repugnant, and does violence to the cause of truth and Messianic Judaism.

Mel Gibson did his job well. However, it is a job I wish had never been done. On the whole, this is truly "a disaster movie," more propaganda than evangel--and certainly not good news for the Jews.