Not since the 1980s, when America's hottest prime-time series depicted the scheming J.R. Ewing getting gunned down by an unidentified assailant, has there been so much interest in "Who dun it?" With the opening of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, scheduled for this Wednesday, the current burning question is: "Who killed Jesus?"
Some Jewish groups are deeply concerned Gibson's film lays the blame for Christ's death on the Jews. They fear it could result in anti-Semitism. And certainly they have a legitimate concern. As Chuck Colson has pointed out: "During the Middle Ages, Christians treated Jews terribly. In Russia, there were pogroms against the Jews. And of course some of the maniacs around Hitler professed they were killing Jews to purify the Christian race."
Nevertheless, Jewish sensitivity to Gibson's film seems hypocritical at best. Even Rabbi Daniel Lapin acknowledges Jews of late have supported and promoted the most blatant forms of anti-Christian bigotry in the arts and media. He sites the case of Arnold Lehman, the Jewish director of the Brooklyn Museum, and its featuring of British Jew Charles Saatchi's several works desecrating Catholicism and Chris Ofili's Madonna with elephant dung.
Lapin writes, "William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a good friend who has always stood firmly with Jews in the fight against genuine anti-Semitism, yet now, in his fight against anti-Catholicism, he appealed to Jewish organizations in vain. Almost every Christian denomination helped vigorously protest the assault that the Brooklyn Museum carried out against the Catholic faith in such graphically abhorrent ways. Even Mayor Rudolph Giuliani expressed his outrage by trying to withhold money from the Museum. Where was the Jewish expression of solidarity against such ugliness? Only a small group of Orthodox Jews joined their fellow Americans in protest at this literal defilement of Christianity .... And were other Jews silent? No, unfortunately not. In actuality a small but disproportionately vocal number of them were defending the Brooklyn Museum and its director in the name of artistic freedom."
Proposing as some Jewish authorities have -- that "violence" against Jews could break out across Europe, or any other place for that matter, because of Gibson's film -- is an argument based more on paranoia than fact. It's unfortunate, but both Europe and America are in the midst of a post-Christian era -- and the possibility that anti-Semitic hostilities would develop over a gospel story is extremely remote. Besides, the current wave of European anti-Semitism is based largely on the Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict and has absolutely nothing to do with a militant zeal for Christianity.
Moreover, Christians who take the principles of their faith seriously are the most enthusiastic supporters of the Jewish people. They recognize that Jesus, their Lord, was a Jew. The first disciples were Jews. Most believe Jews are God's chosen people and have a divine right to the land of Israel. As Allan Dobras claims in his editorial, Mel Gibson: Passion and Prejudice: "To suggest that they would react in a wave of anti-Jewish violence over a movie about Christ makes no more sense than laying the blame of Roman persecutions of Christians on modern-day Italians after viewing Quo Vadis."
So what's all this hype about anti-Semitism? I suggest the criticisms of Gibson's film are not really about ethnicity, but about avoiding the greatest issues of our time. It's about the triumph of truth over moral relativism. It's about rejection of the doctrines of self-actualization and the need to once again embrace the glories of self-sacrifice. It's about our need for God -- the depth of our depravity -- our inhumanity to humanity -- our sin!!! No matter our race, we vigorously resist and detract from any projections of these verities on script or screen, lest we discover how much in error our lives genuinely are.
Certainly, the Bible assigns a special, initial culpability to Israel's leaders for the death of Christ. But the Scriptures also explain that God in His sovereignty foreordained this -- not only for the sake of Israel's redemption, but also for the salvation of the world. Hal Lindsey sums up the matter in this fashion: "Now as to the question, 'Who is guilty for the death of Jesus?' Since Jesus, the Messiah, came to die to atone for the sins of all mankind, all mankind must be responsible for his death."
Indeed!!! And every person who accepts the biblical teaching understands this great truth. Mel Gibson understands it and that's why in his movie, The Passion of the Christ, it's his hand holding the spike to nail Christ to the cross. Rembrandt understood it. That's why he painted The Raising of the Cross as a self-portrait. The soldier pulling the cross of the crucified Christ into place is none other than Rembrandt himself.
What is more, if you would know the grace of God in His plan of redemption, you must accept the indictment of your own culpability in Christ's death. You must see it personally. The suffering He endured was the punishment you deserved. You must come to the place where you recognize your own utter spiritual bankruptcy -- that it was your sin that drove Jesus to the cross. You must realize your soul's filth is so hideous in the sight of God that only by the provision of Christ's sacrifice in your stead could you be saved.
Nothing does more to quell the hostilities of a man against his brother than to understand that together they are equally broken -- equally hopeless -- and equally in need of the same cure. Mel Gibson's film reminds us of this fact; and instead of inciting prejudice against Jews, it highlights that great reference point where all men, Jew and Gentile alike, truly find their bond of human commonality -- the place of forgiveness and cleansing -- bowed before the cross of Christ.
Rev. Mark H. Creech ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.