The Bigger Picture

Written by Simon Cohen

What is the worst thing you have ever done? Did you curse yourself afterwards, feel a deep sense of shame, and make an empty promise that you would never do anything like it again, and you would be a good person for the rest of your life? That’s how I felt after watching The Passion of the Christ.

Gibson repeatedly stabbed my conscience with a two-hour reminder of my personal shortcomings and the dire state of humanity. With every spit, kick and punch, I was compelled to think about the magnitude of humanity’s sins and the sacrifice required to redeem them. According to Christian theology, Jesus lived to suffer and die for our sins—all our sins. The time I stole from my father’s wallet. The time I picked on a kid at school. Caiaphas and the Jewish mob may have condemned Jesus, but all of humanity killed him. Maybe if we hadn’t been such a sinful bunch, Jesus’ suffering might have been limited to the odd bone-crunching whack, stoning and the crucifixion. The fact is, life just ain't like that.

A reflection of the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life is in essence a reflection of the weight of sin that pervades humanity. The Passion places the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice in explicit perspective. The fact that we can empathize so much with the hatred and violence in Gibson’s first century world is our problem, not the director’s. We may not go round stoning or crucifying each other, but we are all far from perfect. For those that denounce the violence in the Passion as gratuitous, I ask you one question: what is the worst thing you have ever done?

The Passion was never going to be a comfortable ride. Gibson takes us on a roller coaster of intense emotions. Some people leave the film in tears, some in silence, some in disgust. I felt ashamed, but I also felt inspired. The portrayal of humanity’s sins juxtaposed against Jesus’ love makes the Passion one of the greatest cinematic tales of good versus evil. The Dalai Lama once said, "whether one believes in religion or not—there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness."

In the eyes of this agnostic, the altruism and compassion Jesus displayed in the face of adversity represents a benchmark for morality that we can all aspire to. The rare glimpses of the life and teachings of Jesus in the film are eclipsed by the scenes of blood and brutality. For those people who see the film without a prior knowledge of the gospels and the Christian doctrine of redemption, the spiritual impact of the film will be unquestionably diminished. Only by having an insight into the person of Jesus and his unique relationship with God, can we truly appreciate the devotion he displays in the last hours of his life.

In the absence of the bigger picture—the context that the Bible provides—the viewers are left with the gospel according to Gibson, a subjective half-day snapshot of a holy man’s life. There is nothing sacred about a spirituality based on a movie man’s interpretation of the final hours of Jesus’ life. Only a pro-active search for the historical and theological context surrounding the film can lead to a truly spiritual Passion experience.

The sacred Hindu poem the Bhagavad Gita states, "If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred." If you want to see the bravest hero of them all, read the gospels and go and see The Passion of the Christ. But be warned, for every hero there must be a villain. What’s the worst thing you have ever done?

Copyright ©2004 Simon Cohen