The Passion of the Christ
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 Songt: “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.
In our world today too, there are many sufferings,
unjust or needless. I believe that God does not want our
torturing. Jesus is a proto 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 egalitarianiam 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 plan. 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 truns different in one
hundred eighty degrees turn, “There should not be
another Jesus of unjust suffering and death in this world.”
I still remember from a Korean video tape an inhuman scene
that a young man's corpse was being dragged on the ground
by two soldiers at the Kwangju massacre in 1980, which was
led by the so-called "shinkunboo" whose head was
Chun Doo-hwan. I felt the same feelings of unutterableness
at this movie. 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 historization of the gospel story. As
a whole and again, this movie must be viewed critically
and/or with multiple dimensions of the texts involving Jesus’
life and death.
Modern violence and justice struggle
in the world:
many stories difficult to hear.
Democratic Resistance Movement is one of them.
It took place in Kwangju, Korea in May 1980, now officially
recognized and commemorated as a justice fighting day against
an unjust oppression of Chun Doo-hwan-led military coup.
The full-fledged scale military suppression began in Kwangju
on that day. During a-week-long period hundreds of thousands
of people of Kwangju took to the street, shouted for and
demanded a democratic government. From this struggle, several
hundreds were shot to death because armed soldiers were
sent to fire protesting people. Some were pierced or battered
to death. Still several thousans were wounded (official
numbers yet unknown). Nation was declared an emergency state
and all colleges were ordered to shut. Actually, in this
time of May 1980 the country had lots of protesting gatherings
all over the place. Perhaps, Kwangju was a more defiant
city than others. About 20,000 soldiers were sent to this
city to suppress such a massive protest against a coup leader.
I was a sophomore in college in another big, distant city
in which I also struggled to fight a fast-pacing military
rule. Now there is a national memorial cemetry for these
people killed in Kwangju. Indeed, the first movie dealing
with this movement will come out in July 2007. Movie title
is "fancy outing," which was an actual military
operation name at the time to suppress Kwangju.
How can I forget holy sacrifices made in
the midst of an unjust rule to fight for justice and freedom?
They were brave and brilliant, risking their lives, willing
to die for truth. At the same time, they were victims of
an unjust, bloody rule. Some were killed mistakenly. Who
can justify this horrendous violence or torture? Such senseless
violence should be, first of all, avoided. The evil should
be named and judged. Indeed, a decade later, Chun Doo-hwan
was indicted for an wrongdoing of military coup, and received
a life-term imprisonment. The sacrifices of Kwangju people
including many other people killed in this nation-wide protest
against the military coup become enormous moral burden for
all who want to remember them in their lives. These sacrifices
are called "good" not because they were
sacrificed instead of us or they were sacrificed as mere
victims or they were sacrificed to get name but because
their sacrifices are for us today in the sense
that we have to remember their sacrifice in our life today.
So the challenge is how we should live in the midst of violence
or an unjust world.