Yesterday, for the start of the Christian Holy Week, I watched for the second time in my life, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. This week, in celebration of Holy Week, I’d like to share some random thoughts I had as I watched the movie.
- I like that Gibson’s portrayal depicted Jesus’ time in the garden as one of an ongoing internal struggle. In the past, it’s been far too easy for me when reading Scripture to think that Jesus said, “Not my will, but Thine” (Luke 22:42) with a lot of strength and certitude. My thinking had long been that because Jesus is also God, somehow facing his own impending doom was easier than it would be for us “mere humans”, but in that thinking, it also makes Jesus very distant from our own struggles. Instead, Gibson nicely casts the human side of Jesus for us, struggling with putting his own personal agenda aside, letting God work through him as the darkness surrounds him. In this depiction, Jesus is much more relatable to us, much more understanding of our own struggles, making our own suffering perhaps more tolerable because we know that he, too, has “been there.”
- Gibson’s portrayal depicts Satan as a soft, gentle tempter. I think very often the challenges that God lays out for us are often the more difficult for us to choose (Remember “choose always the hardest”?), and so this makes Satan’s job much more easy, because he is simply appealing to our own human weakness. If you don’t believe me, look again at Genesis and the story of Eve. Have you ever noticed that she doesn’t ever question the serpent? Never says, “Where did you hear that?” or “What would make you say such a thing about God?” No. There’s no need to question because she’s already thought it for herself. The serpent’s gentle suggestion that God is not being completely honest with her was all she needed to act in vain.
- I like the fact that when Jesus was looking to the moon and praying for God to take away his burden, a cloud immediately passes in front of the moon. I’ve had experiences like this in nature before and I personally believe God speaks to us all the time in nature, but we rarely listen, or we slough it off as coincidence. I remember one particular incident last year when I was really angry with God about our having been relocated again. Why was I being called away from the work I had grown to love in my old town and the friendships I’d formed? Why was I being asked again to start over, knowing that this location, too, would likely not be permanent? And the whole time I was letting God have it! (If you’ve never done this before, you may want to try it. I’ve learned he can take it!) As I was demanding answers to these questions, the sun was parked hidden behind a cloud. The cloudy sky seemed to fit my mood perfectly. As I rounded the church building that was part of my dog’s and my daily route, the sun and cloud were blocked entirely, but just as I rounded the corner of the building on the other side (and was really letting God have it), the sun popped up real big from behind that cloud and I heard (in the quiet of my heart) the ringing laughter of my grandpa who’s been gone for over 20 years, and the words, “It’s OK, I’ll leave the light on for you.” And just like that, my anger was gone. Gone! And I was ready to move forward. It was the perfect “sign” for me, and the perfect “thing to say” to my heart. It made me laugh out loud! In a similar way, Gibson’s version of the cloud covering the moon at the time that Jesus is praying for relief, seems to be the perfect “sign” for Jesus, too. It seems to confirm what Jesus already knows, that he will not be relieved from his fate. And just after that, when the soldiers arrive, Jesus meets them with a new resolve that he was missing earlier. I like this depiction. From my own experience, it makes sense to me.
- My thoughts on this final topic are jumbled, but I’ll do the best I can to explain…. If there were one thing I would change about the garden scene, it would be to try to draw us into what I see as the deeper meaning of Jesus’ request to the disciples to “stay awake.” I’ll admit I wouldn’t have the first clue how to show it. But, I personally contrast Jesus’ ability to do this with the inability of Adam & Eve to do so in the Garden of Eden. True, Adam & Eve never literally “fell asleep” there, but it seems to me that if they had been “awake” to the serpent’s suggestions in the garden, and not “fallen” into blaming others (and each other) for their own bad choices, our whole salvation history would probably be written much differently. To me, it is every bit as disappointing to “fall asleep” in the hour of another’s need like the disciples did (I’ve heard many a divorcée or ill person lament about the so-called friends that left them in the hour of their greatest need), as it is to “fall asleep” and abandon ourselves, as I believe Adam & Eve did, in our hours of greatest need. The times we really should question the gentle, coaxing voice that says, “There’s always tomorrow,” or “God wouldn’t mind,” (am I the only one who hear’s that voice?) are, as I see it, all “garden moments” because somewhere deep down we know that tomorrow is never guaranteed, and that if we are seeking reassurance that God “wouldn’t mind” something we are about to do, it is only because we already know that he would. I’ve come to believe that the only real difference in a garden moment is whether we choose to follow Adam & Eve’s example, or follow Jesus. This is, I believe, why it is only proper that Jesus is the only one fit to “stay awake.” (Of course, eventually all of the disciples did “wake up”– providing hope for us that we can do the same– and then went out to spread God’s Word instead of blaming “the crowds” for putting God to death…and that is, in fact, Good News!)
Join me on Wednesday as I take a closer look at Gibson’s depiction of some of the other characters in the story of the Passion. And if you haven’t yet seen the movie, or it’s been awhile, I encourage you to revisit this movie for Holy Week, as well as reading about the Passion in Scripture which begins in each of the four Gospels at the following chapters: Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 12.