I have seldom talked to so many seemingly leveled-headed people, who are so angered by, and in some cases offended by, a movie -- that they have not yet even seen. Some have convinced themselves it is evidence of Jews culpability in the death of Jesus Christ; and in turn there is reasonable concern by my Jewish brothers and sisters about the feared blow-back effect of the movie, anti-Semitism.
I submit this movie is no more about the Jewish community than Sadam Hussein is about the Iraqi people, Mussolini is about the Italian people, or Hitler is about the German people. Simply put, these leaders and the horrible crimes they perpetrated were ultimately about power and what man will do to keep or increase it. The story of Jesus' crucifixion is no different.
"The Passion of the Christ" sets forth the basic divergence within the spirit of mankind, which more often than not places power, wealth and ego in opposition to selflessness, forgiveness, and the common good.
Throughout history mankind has made critically important choices about how we live, and what we live for, and those in positions of power have often chosen violent execution over democracy and community. While there clearly is no comparison to Jesus Christ, it is worthwhile noting that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, John and Robert Kennedy and a long list of others, did not die from old age.
They died because on some substantial level they were seen by some very powerful people as untenable agents of social change, and as a direct threat to power, position, and in many cases, wealth. Jesus was a threat to man's interpretation of power.
Extremists, extreme ideologues, and people with an intentionally narrow and harmful worldview, will do most anything to protect their self-image and further their own agenda. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a matter of political expediency on the part of Pontius Pilate, who was expected to keep Judea under control, and often brutally quelled uprisings, and religious leaders who for political and theological reasons viewed Jesus as a threat to their positions in the religious hierarchy.
Jesus was a passionate man, committed to real and sustained change in the world. He was a man who truly lived by his beliefs, his principles, and his values. On these points Jesus chose "not to negotiate with himself." That degree of uncommon selflessness on behalf of others is inspiring.
As a man who has made it his life mission to eradicate poverty, as we know it, within my lifetime, this movie was especially heartfelt and relevant even 2000 years after the events that it portrays. Our compromise-driven political system forces many politicians to choose what is politically popular or expedient over what is truly in the interest of the common good. But of course the work of Operation HOPE would not be possible without officials on both sides of the aisle who work with us in a bi-partisan manner, and are truly committed to eradicating poverty, and who also stand up for what is right, even if it might prove harmful to them politically. Inspiring.
And no one can dispute the contribution that the church and religion have made to our society, not only on a spiritual level, but also in the role that they have played in the struggle for equality and social justice in our nation. But all of us remain cognizant that some religious leaders take actions that are no good, because it is beneficial to them on political, or so-called theological grounds, and also that many leaders unfortunately also use religion to push their own personal agendas.
We should all engage in constant introspection, and hopefully this will lead us to make decisions that increasingly choose the selflessness of Jesus, over the unhealthy ego and power of man. That is what is important about this film. If it does nothing else, this is enough. With introspection it forces us to determine whether the backroom pragmatic compromises of Pontius Pilate, or the enlightened goodness, unconditional love, and selflessness of Jesus aligns more with our thought process and actions.
I don't know about you, but unfortunately I must admit that I saw more of myself in the character of Pontius Pilate than I did in the character of Jesus. I am just not that good - yet. But as a friend of mine once told me, "a saint, is a sinner that got up." Translation: like the many that the selfless Jesus chose to FORGIVE AND TO ENCOURAGE along the way.I am working on it.
It is time we changed this public debate into one that presents choices of selflessness, forgiveness, and the common good against those of power, wealth and an unhealthy ego. In essence, the public debate should address the internal debate that each of us must have, in deciding who we truly are and ultimately what we should be passionate about.
As the Reverend Dr. Cecil "Chip" Murray, my pastor and mentor at First A.M.E. Church, once said, "if you don't have something you are willing to die for, then with respect, you are not fit to live..."