Mel and Me
When Mel Gibson was still working on his film, “The Passion of the Christ,” he was having a hard time finding anyone who would distribute it to movie theaters. Made with his own money, the film was essentially a dramatic presentation of the Stations of the Cross. The subject nature, the perceived anti-Semitism of the script, and the violence of the film had turned a lot of power players in Hollywood off.
So Mel took his film on the road. He started showing it to Christian leaders, especially conservative Catholics and Evangelicals. To many people’s astonishment, both of these groups received the film with open arms.
Over a period of a few months, Mel had several showings of his unfinished film in Nashville. I was invited to one of these events by my friend Robert. This showing was for people in the Christian music industry, but Robert somehow smuggled me in.
Yes, I met Mel Gibson. And, yes, I asked him a couple of really good priest/pastor type questions. And, yes, I was a bit star struck to be just a few feet away from Mad Max.
But when I left the showing that night, it wasn’t Mel Gibson that I went home talking about. It was that film. It was the images of Jesus’ suffering, and of Mary’s suffering as well. I could not get it out of my mind. I felt, and still feel, forever changed. I knew immediately that I had to share it with my church. So a couple of days before the movie officially premiered I showed it to two packed theaters at the Regal Cinema in Green Hills. We celebrated Holy Communion right there in the theater as soon as the film was over.
The night I saw the Passion for the first time, someone asked Mel an important question. They wanted to know why it was so violent. Wasn’t it over the top? For instance, the Bible records that Jesus received 39 lashes, not the 70 or 80 shown in the movie.
In response, Mel told us that there isn’t any way to portray the true sufferings of Christ. The real suffering was internal, it was the feeling of begin abandoned and forsaken by everyone, even his Father. Yes, the beatings and the whipping must have been horrible, enough to kill the average man. But there is no way to portray the inner anguish of God’s Son being so fully cast down by those he loves. So, in order to portray that pain, Gibson resorted to physical violence as a symbol for internal trauma.
Some people still dislike the Passion, and many others who did appreciate it are glad to have only see it once. I understand that. However, I resonate with what the movie is trying to do, and I find it deeply moving. In his suffering, Jesus endured the whips and the beatings. He endured the mockery and the spitting. But more than anything, he endured the betrayal of almost all those he loved.
His suffering takes away my sins. His suffering restores me to wholeness. His suffering bears the weight of my shame. And it is through him that I have the hope of eternal life.
I adore Christ, and I bless him, because by his holy cross he has redeemed the world.