Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Passion

Many of those complaining about the new movie "The Passion" say that it does not focus enough on Jesus' teachings. Even Matt Stone and Trey Parker joined in this outcry with their South Park parody of Gibson's film. All these voices have united assuming that Jesus' message can be boiled down to two or three sweet proverbs: "Love your enemy," "turn the other cheek," and "judge not lest ye be judged." They seem to believe that the sum of Jesus' teachings is love, peace, and harmony. Jesus, in their hands, has taken on the role of a liberator, a revolutionary. Many compare him to a civil rights reformer like Martin Luther King or a peaceful protestor like Gandhi, both of whom were model representations of tolerance. They assert that Jesus' love for mankind caused him to break with the legalistic and puritanical views of the religious leaders of his day. In this way he seems to serve as a kind of predecessor to the modern break made by the Baby-Boomer generation (as well as those that followed) with the old-fashioned norms imposed by previous generations.

Unfortunately, such a view of Jesus overlooks some rather important aspects of his message. If the people crying "wolf" concerning the Passion will put their money where their mouth is, I am more than willing to focus on Jesus' message. It is true that Jesus turned things around, but unlike the hippies he did not do away with the old moral values, he reinforced them. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-"Do not think I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill." (Remember, the Law is the Ten Commandments and all those lovely legal prohibitions recorded in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The Prophets are those guys who went around telling people that if they did not turn back to God and humbly seek to obey Him, He was going to eradicate them-Not exactly peace, love and harmony as it is popularly portrayed). The thing that set Jesus apart from those around him was that he had mercy, something foreign to the religious authorities of the day.

In one story the religious authorities brought a woman who was caught in adultery to Jesus. The Law said an adulteress should be stoned so the scribes asked Jesus what they should do, and of course Jesus said, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." He exhibited mercy, but notice that he did not deny that what she had done was sin. He said to her, "from now on sin no more" (John 8:3-11).
(Everyone says that Jesus is so kind and that he is not judgmental, but here we find him calling adultery "sin." Today, when Christians call sex out of marriage a sin many say we are being judgmental. This is because people have no concept of what judgment is. Jesus was stating a fact when he said that the adulteress had sinned, but He did not judge her. Judgment would have been stoning her. Christians today are accused as being judgmental, and in some cases, it is true, but calling sin "sin" is not judging according to Jesus. Punishing the sin is.)

The sexual revolution and hippie movement did quite the opposite of Jesus: asserting that as long as we don't hurt anyone else we're basically good. Jesus was saying everyone is as bad as that prostitute is. Elsewhere he says that not only is adultery wrong, but that lusting with the eyes is enough to send someone to hell. Whereas we have all but made sin a myth, Jesus upped the ante. The reason he did this was to show people that sin is not just something that bad people do, but it is a disease that infects all people.

Today, we have explained away many of the actions that were then considered sin, and in doing so, have found no reason to believe there is something wrong inside us. No one would try to stone the adulteress today, so Jesus would never have had a reason to defend her. Today his message would be centered more on the following passage from Matthew 5 because of the prevalence of the belief that everyone is good:
17 "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Although critics seem to be saying that the best commentary on Jesus' teachings is the Black Eyed Peas' song "Where Is the Love?" there is a vital aspect of his teaching that they have overlooked: his standards on truth and ethics. He came proclaiming grace and mercy, yes, but only once people understood that they NEEDED IT. None of us feel we need his mercy, just like those of the scribes and Pharisees who were self-righteous in Jesus' day. We are a generation who wags our fingers at violence and intolerance, yet find room to justify every extreme of sexual gratification, the very thing Jesus himself called sin.

Jesus' message was revolutionary, but not because he ignored the strict code already presented in Scripture. It was revolutionary because he showed that even if someone kept all the rules, there was something down deep that needed to be weeded out. He never claimed that people did not need help to get to God; on the contrary, he leveled the playing field and revealed that everyone needs help. His message was that his death and his suffering (or Passion) were absolutely necessary to pay the price for the moral darkness each of us hides deep within our hearts, no matter how good we appear to the outside world.