'The Passion,' Part III

Posted: Feb 24, 2004 12:00 AM

Unfortunately, so much attention has been directed toward unfair allegations about Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" that the real message of the work could be obscured in the process.

That Jews have been persecuted like no other people in history is a truism. That anti-Semitism is a malignant force that continues into the modern age is also undeniable. To the extent that Christians have participated in Jewish persecution historically is indefensible. But authentic Christianity unreservedly decries and condemns anti-Semitism.

Christianity calls Christians to love Jews, not to harbor enmity toward them. If God selected the Jews as His chosen people -- and He did -- who are we, as Christians, not to be in awe of that? How could we disrespect the very people to whom God entrusted the law and from whom the Messiah Himself descended?

People sometimes talk about the differences in the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. But Christianity teaches that the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. God may have revealed Himself to us in progressive stages, but He is eternal and unchangeable. If God is a triune God, He was always a triune God.

Some people seem to misapprehend the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, as if there is some insuperable dichotomy between the two. But Christ said that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.

The Bible doesn't begin with the New Testament. It is an integrated document from Genesis through Revelation. Virtually every page of the Old Testament points to the New. Old Testament prophecies inform the New Testament, and the New Testament validates the Old.

In fact, it was primarily the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament that finally opened this skeptic's eyes to the truth of Christianity. I was deeply moved when first exposed to the intricate details about Christ's life and death foretold in the Old Testament. For me, the Old Testament is a roadmap to the cross.

Mel Gibson says that his meditations on Christ's passion led to his own redemption, rescuing him from his personal demons. I am convinced his purpose for the movie is to share the "good news" about this redemptive power with everyone.

Thus, "The Passion" is not about assessing blame; it is not about casting aspersions on anyone or any group of people. It is not about inflaming negative sentiments; it is not about stoking a revenge mentality. It is about forgiveness.

As Christians we dare not dwell on who physically killed Christ or who caused Him to be killed. No matter who issued the order for His execution or who argued for it, all human beings since the beginning of time are culpable -- as Gibson has poignantly observed. If we were not sinners, Christ's sacrificial death would have been unnecessary.

To focus on the identity of those participating directly or indirectly in the crucifixion is to miss the central point that Christ Himself, in His sovereignty, made the decision, along with the Father, to die. Christ said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." His whole purpose in taking human form was to live a sinless life and die a sacrificial death in order to expiate man's sin by reconciling God's perfect justice with His abundant love and mercy.

Christ's death was preordained long before the first human being was created, and there was nothing any human being could do to change it -- a fact for which we must be eternally grateful -- and we are guilty of base human pride if we think otherwise.

As Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote, "Every other person who ever came into this world came into it to live. (Christ) came into it to die ... the Cross was there from the beginning, and it cast its shadow backward to His birth."

If any Christians do blame a particular group for Christ's death, they are woefully misguided. Mel Gibson is not among the misguided. His mission is not to arouse our passions against those who had a hand in Christ's death at that precise moment in history that it occurred, but to ignite our passions for Jesus for all time.

Bishop Sheen reminds us that "The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the Person of Christ, however, it was his death that was first and His life that was last ." "The Passion" directs us to Christ's death so that we might understand the meaning of His life -- and ours.