Review: The Passion of the Christ
The Passion of the Christ (movie) reflects Mel Gibson’s
Jesus -- his passion for a "Western" Jesus, who comes
to die and is punished instead of "me." The movie begins
with a quote from Isaiah's Suffering Servant Song: “But
he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises
we are healed” (Isa 53:5). [In fact, within the literary
context of Isaiah, the figure of the suffering servant does not
refer to an individual but to Israel.] Taking the theme of the
suffering servant and applying to Jesus, Gibson colors his "Jesus"
with "substitutionary death" (the so-called penal substitution
theory) with much violence in the movie. The movie is full of
unnecessary, exaggerated torture with little information about
the cause of Jesus' death in a historical sense. For me, the movie
turns very disappointing because of the needless violence without
raising the historical question of why Jesus was killed. Why is
there so much violence to Jesus? Bluntly, the question is: Who
brought Jesus to death? I just felt throughout the movie that
there should not be another Jesus, who receives enormous torturing
and injustice caused by the evil doers. Let us get straight on
the cause of Jesus' death. In fact, if Jesus' preaching of the
kingdom of God (basileia theou) had been successful or his mission
had been accepted by the people in his time, he would not have
been killed. All the gospel stories present the cause of Jesus'
death as the culmination of what he said, did, and acted. In other
words, his message and deeds were dangerous for some people. That
is why he was opposed and executed by those who resent his message.
Jesus' passion for God's love and justice got him killed.
In our world today too, there are many sufferings,
unjust or needless. I believe that God does not want our torturing.
Jesus is a type of the most vicious and unjust suffering and death.
This way of reading of Jesus' death is certainly plausible and
one important avenue to look at the history and meaning of the
event. In fact, the cause of Jesus' death could be constructed
in many different ways, as the Four Gospels themselves in the
New Testament testify. In Luke, Jesus' work as a prophet provokes
enemies' anger. Jesus dies as a martyr, not as salvific atonement
or substitutionary death at all; his radical message of justice
and egalitarianism led to the cross. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus'
death, somewhat difficult for Jesus himself too, is pictured as
good sacrifice for "others." Here caution is that sacrifice
of Jesus does not automatically mean penal substitutionary death
of Jesus. On one hand, meaning of Jesus' death can be constructed
in the context of different communities behind the gospels. On
the other hand, apart from the later communities' meaning of Jesus'
death, cause of Jesus' death can be constructed in a more historical
sense, which means analyzing all aspects of life in the world
ranging from politics to economy to religion. If we continue to
discuss about the cause and meaning of Jesus' death, we will be
faced with the question of "we should do" today.
As for me, the biggest problem of the Gibson's movie
seems to condone the social, political evil of violence and injustice,
and be blind to the massive power of evil evident in such atrocious,
unspeakable torturing and murdering under the cover of a divine
The cost of this movie is too high in the sense
that people do not reflect on such a power of evil -- in the form
of violence, in the form of politics, in the form of daily lives
of ordinary people. The movie's impression was that "the
more violence on Jesus, the holier Jesus is, and the more thankful
Christians feel because "our sins are paid back." But
again, in other contexts that I put here, the message of the movie
turns different in one hundred eighty degrees turn, “There
should not be another Jesus of unjust suffering and death in this
world.” Such atrocious, senseless violence and suffering
must disappear in our world.
Other comments: We should acknowledge that this
movie is not a historical movie in the sense of what really happened
but a theological story, directed and interpreted by Gibson who
follows a specific understanding or the meaning of Jesus' death.
If someone too quickly responds to this movie as if this were
a history per se, he or she evidently does not distinguish between
history and theology.
Lastly, even this theological story, with a vicious
or violent role of the Jews and the Romans, should not be related
to all Jews in history. Of course, there were not all Jews involved
in accusations against Jesus. There were good and faithful people
like Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, disciples, and
many nameless women who followed Jesus. Also, we cannot simply
equate Jewish ancestors with Jewish people today and in history.
So if any person does not distinguish between individuals and
community, and between the past and the present, that person brings
in impending dangers of inviting another Hitler to emerge on the
scene. I reject such a naïve thinking or attitude of the
historicization of the gospel story. As a whole, this movie must
be viewed critically and/or with multiple dimensions of the texts
involving Jesus’ life and death.