Monday, March 24, 2008

Passion Parts 3 & 4

Well I missed the chance to send you all Easter greetings on time yesterday... but Happy Easter (albeit belatedly), from me.

I don't know if you've noticed...but it's been a veritable smorgasbord of programmes surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Today we have "Ben Hur" (okay that's a little bit of a stretch) and Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ". We've also had the usual coverage of services on Sunday Morning and Songs of Praise... and a couple of documentaries (some pro, some con).

Did you manage to catch the final two episodes of The Passion over the weekend? Here's a link if you still want to check them out:

Episodes 1-3 (if you missed all of them).
Episode 3
Episode 4

I personally had mixed feelings about the climax to the serial adaptation. I still think Joseph Mawle's interpretation of Jesus was solid and the characterization of most characters in general was of a high quality. However, I was intrigued about what was added and removed as events gathered pace.

They included the dream of Pilate's wife that served as a warning that he was a good man... presumably this was to give the Romans more to do, as once the sentence is passed by Pilate... there is very little to be done in terms of character development. Incidentally what do you make of the idea of that dream? Who provided the inspiration for it? If it was God and the message were heeded, Jesus would not have been able to make his sacrifice... so could it have been him? It's plausible that Satan used the dream as a way to try and disrupt God's plan and keep Jesus from the cross... but that doesn't feel right. I think what I'm inclined to believe, is that God needed to demonstrate to all parties involved in the sentencing of Christ (the Sanhedrin and Romans directly and you and I by proxy), that his son was a good man - righteous and without sin. God also knew in his sovereignty that the message to preserve the life of Christ would fall on deaf ears. I'm always in awe of that characteristic of God... that he knows when people are going to fail and fall flat on their face... yet he still invests in the effort of giving them the chance to succeed despite the eventual outcome. How just is that? How fair? For all those who say "if there is a God he must be unjust", think on that for a moment. How many of you would put substantial money on the table for a bet you knew you would lose? No, God is beyond fair.

Back to the Passion. The crucifixion scene was massively abridged. There were less people than we might have expected... and some of the big events that are described never happened: no darkening of skies, no mention of Christ being up there for three hours, no temple curtain being torn, no moment of clarity on the part of the Roman centurion. I appreciate that they were trying to stick with the human side of Jesus character (I even supported them in this), however there comes a time when you need to stop cushioning people from the more powerful aspects of a story and just go for it.

I think people accept that there is a certain amount of lore that is forged around death. People remember the manner in which a man or woman of public or personal significance, pass away. They draw parallels with that person in life.

I believe the nature of Jesus death was necessarily awesome because it was yet another pointer to who he was and the sheer scale of what had happened...

"From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah." Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him." And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!""
Matthew 27:45-54
... not your average run of the mill death, then.

Similarly when it comes to Christ's burial, they inferred that the number of guards on the scene at the tomb entrance was limited to two...and that they snuck off for a pint at a crucial moment. Firstly, we don't know for sure it was the Temple Guard who were watching the entrance. If it were the Romans there would have probably been 16 soldiers taking turns in groups of four to stand watch for three hours whilst the others slept. If they nodded off or cleared off to the pub... it carried a high price. The Romans executed soldiers for this kind of behaviour. Notwithstanding this, the Temple Guard and Roman legionary alike, would have been trained to a high standard of discipline. The best explanation for what happened to them, is not that they cleared off, or that the disciples overpowered them (this is very unlikely - in such a short time, Jesus followers would have been utterly demoralised by the death of their leader... and the last thing on any person's mind during a time of grief, is to bust a body out of a tomb and venerate the person as risen. Even if they had the will, they would not have the capability. They were a rabble of working men from various trades, they would likely have been outnumbered and they were woefully ill equipped to take on a stationed guard); it is far more likely that the guards were taken out supernaturally as the Bible suggests.

Anyway, these are minor gripes. All in all I thought it was good. I also liked how they handled the return of Jesus. I didn't think I was going to at first... when they had two different actors portraying Jesus outside the tomb and Jesus on the road to Emmaus; however, this was just the writer using artistic licence to cover the parts of the Gospels that mention that the disciples were kept from recognising Jesus. That they returned to Joseph Mawle after these two occurrences, was incredibly clever. It must have lured a few people into a sense that the writer was going to suggest that the resurrection was a hoax... and then turned their ideas right on their head.

Which of course, is exactly what Jesus himself did when he died and rose again.

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