Reflect on Calvary

April 3, 2004

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SANA’A, YEMEN – So, The Passion of the Christ is making movie history, and critics who predicted nobody would watch its so-called anti-Semitic gore are eating crow. Another sign of how some of our darling media elitists are terribly out of touch.

Of course they don’t flinch over explicit sex or violence that has far less to do with reality. Remember the last R-rated Jesus film, The Last Temptation of Christ? Martin Scorsese, lauded as a film genius, directed Jesus as a confused, if not neurotic, Messiah who could barely do up his sandals.

I recall it well because, disappointed in its authenticity, I walked out just prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. From my front-row seat. Up the long aisle. Past everyone.

Little did I know it was the instant when Christ’s boldest disciple, Peter, denied he ever knew Him. With hundreds of eyes watching me, all I heard was the rabid charge against Peter, in thundering surround-sound, “He’s one of them! He’s one of them!” I hear some viewers have also left The Passion. Strange thing though.

Apparently, unlike my escape from Scorsese’s 1988 farce, many have returned, sometimes in tears, drawn back by the movie’s powerful theme.

Unfortunately, since Yemen, 99 per cent Muslim, has no Cineplexes, The Passion will get here only sporadically via pirated dubs. In the meantime, I’ll have to trust critic Roger Ebert, who calls it “the most powerful and important interpretation of Christ’s final hours on film, because it deals directly with what happened, not sentimental, cleaned up, post-card versions.”

Yes, the gore is exactly the point. Jesus crushed is a profound metaphor for the sin that disfigures and destroys our lives. More than a polished piece of silver jewelry, the cross was a gruesome instrument of death. In fact, Jesus’ pain was so terrible, a new word — “excruciating” or “out-of-thecross” — was created to describe it. Experts believe Jesus was flogged to show His veins, muscles and sinews.

With large blood-loss, a racing heart, and stalled kidneys, He was in critical shock already while carrying His cross. Nerves in His hands and feet were then shattered by Roman spikes.

And after His cross was hoisted, Jesus’ shoulders would have dislocated.

Then, slow asphyxiation.

To exhale, Jesus had to push on his feet, tearing them, to ease his stretched diaphragm. Over time, fluid collected around His lungs and erratically beating heart. Eventually, after hours of fighting for each breath, heart failure.

Finally, rejected and alone, marred beyond recognition, Jesus died. Willingly.

For you. For me.

Is that brutal? Absolutely. No wonder Muslims, who revere Christ as a prophet, even calling him the “Nur,” or “Light” of the world, deny the crucifixion. They can’t swallow God allowing one of His own to be so cruelly dishonoured. (As if God ever asks for our opinion.)

Ironically, though, Muslims in several Middle East countries are now watching The Passion in recordbreaking numbers. And it’s also interesting that, culturally, Muslims do value atoning sacrifices. Bloody ones.

That’s why millions of lambs in the Muslim world, including one running around our house, were slaughtered recently during Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday, which, paradoxically, has an echo of Easter.

Yes, thanks to our landlord’s invitation, I’ve now seen a lamb butchered up close. It really wasn’t very pleasant. So why would anyone expect a movie about the death of Jesus, who’s called the Lamb of God, to be any different?

It seems to me, then, The Passion is resonating with people worldwide because it poignantly reveals the mysterious, if not outrageous, love of God.

The heart of that love is Christ’s sacrifice: to give us, like Peter, a second chance. And much more. Surely that’s worth the ticket price and a couple of hours of our time.

Nonetheless, if you find yourself curious why this movie is causing such a stir, but fear you can’t stomach it, here’s some advice. Don’t go. Instead, this Easter, read-up the original, including Jesus’ spectacularlybrilliant resurrection, in the New Testament.

Then, in the quietness of your heart, think about what it may all mean for your own life. No doubt, Someone will smile.

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April 3, 2004 • Posted in ,
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