03/08/2004: "A good opinion article on "The Passion""
Here is an article written by Rabbi Michael Lerner on "The Passion". He is clearly a man of good conscience and love who decided to speak his mind on what he felt are the implications of the movie.
I have to disagree with his conclusions however. He is right, of course, that the crucifixion of Christ has been horribly mis-used by people for destructive purposes throughout the Western world, both inside and outside the Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant Christian Churches and the Jewish people have suffered greatly because of this. He is also right that there has been great progress in the last half century in this regard. He is also right that when the gospels were written there was great conflict between the newly forming Catholic Church and the Jewish people.
But he made a couple assumptions that led him to his conclusions that I believe are inaccurate:
1. That the crucifixion of Christ is an inherently a story of cruelty and pain.
2. The early Christian/Jewish conflict brings into question the accuracy of the Gospel accounts.
One of the points Rabbi Lerner made in his article is that in the years following Christ's death and resurrection it was unclear whether those who were followers of Christ would remain within the Jewish faith or would become a seperate church. As such, they didn't think of "the Jews" as a seperate people from themselves. With this I also agree. But the implications of this are different than he implied. Not one of the synoptic Gospels *(see note below) use the word "Jew" to refer to "the crowd" or those who handed over Christ to the Romans. It would be like an American who is against the war in Iraq saying "The Americans forced us into this war." No, they would say something like "The republicans forced us into this war." The message wasn't that the Jewish people as a whole were to blame for Christ's crucifixion but that it was those people (amongst there own people, the Jews) who were filled with hatred and fear, that were responsible. To repeat: it wasn't about the Jews as a whole, because for the most part the Gospel writers saw themselves as part of that people. It was about those Jews who were filled with hate and fear.
See, the story of the crucifixion of Christ is at it's core about love. It is a story about how cruelty, hatred and fear only cause the destruction of what is Holy. It is about turning the other cheek and loving those who hate you. It is calling for us all to act lovingly and charitably. It is telling us that when we do not, although we feel like we are stomping out evil, in reality we are catering to it. It is about Christ being the perfect example of this love for others by giving up his life for all of us, even for those who hated him enough to have him crucified.
Because this is the true message of the crucifixion, I think we can fully focus on it without resorting to cruelty and hate. In fact, the crucifixion should be the rallying cry against cruelty and hate. It is the moment when Christ proved that you can turn the other cheek and be victorious. Even in a what seems like a defeat the Gospel of love can be spread.
So I agree with Rabbi Lerner that we need to emphasize love in our Church. We need to remember that all people are our brothers and sisters and we are to love them as our own. But we need to do these things not by denouncing or minimizing the importance of The Passion of Jesus Christ, but by emphasizing it and the true message it has for us. We need more Priests, Pastors, Deacons, Bishops and Lay people to stand up and proclaim the true message of the Christ's death so that the whole world can hear what the true message is: that the crucifixion is about love. If we all proclaim this loudly while embracing "The Passion" those who would be tempted to follow the devil and use the story for hatred and evil will have the voice of The Church calling them back to the true message. By spreading the true message of the crucifixion, I think we will do much to help along God's plan for us. We must embrace our crosses, not pretend they do not exist.
Lastly, I think we need to follow the example of our Pope, John Paul II, who has asked for forgiveness from the Jewish people for all The Church has done throughout history that has wronged them. May our prayers and petitions for forgiveness bring us to a closer unity with our Jewish brothers and sisters.
*Note from earlier paragraph: The synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke. John's Gospel was written a couple of decades later when the seperation between the Christians and the Jews was more clear and he does use the word "Jew" a number of times to refer to the crowd and those who handed over Christ to the Romans. However, John's Gospel is also the Gospel which most heavily (in my opinion) focuses on Christ's love for all of mankind.