Martini: shaken not stirred

 stabbing a bloodless culture  

Christians are largely responsible for the weak, ineffective impact of the Christian faith in our new postmodern culture. For decades we have expunged any graphical descriptions relating to biblical events or even Scripture messages.

Consider the polite, politically correct wording used in modern Bible renditions of Isaiah 64:6

"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." (NIV)

Filthy rags. Let's see, does that mean our righteousness is like rags we use to dust the house? Or is it more like the cloth we might use in the downstairs washbasin, or to wash the car? Perhaps what comes to mind is the kitchen washcloth that's been used a few times and needs to be thrown in the washing machine.

Actually, the word Isaiah used was never so polite. Although he could have used any number of more polite words, what he chose to use was the Hebrew word "ayd", which refers specifically to rags women of antiquity used as menstrual pads. He deliberately wanted shock effect! Modern Bible translators wouldn't dream of putting the phrase "our righteous acts are like used menstrual cloths" yet that is exactly what Isaiah wrote.

I don't mean to pick on Bible translators, as they have a difficult job when converting the original biblical languages into meaningful text for modern cultures. Still, the point is that our culture has been sanitized. So it's no wonder that the graphical nature of Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ" is stirring up such controversy.

In my view, it's about time someone reminded us what Jesus really went through. His death was graphical. His beatings at the hands of Roman soldiers skilled in such things were beyond our comprehension. In a prophecy dating back 700 years before the event took place, Isaiah suggests that Jesus literally had his beard torn from his face in a savage act of brutality.

Until this film came along, motion pictures about Jesus always displayed His death in artistically gentle ways that conveyed none of the ugly truth of the event. The symbolism was meant to be gentle, sanitized for a "family" audience so that nobody would get upset. As soft as these portrayals were, television networks would take it even further, and delete scenes showing nails pounded into Jesus' hands. The movie "Jesus Christ, Superstar" perhaps best emphasized the lackluster view our culture has of the death of Jesus Christ, asking "who are you and what have you sacrificed?" and stating such nonsense as "I don't know how to love him."

As the church lost the significance of the event we call the "passion" of Christ, even distancing itself from the crucifixion to concentrate on the hope expressed in the resurrection, the culture surrounding the church also lost awareness of what the event was really all about.

Even today, as the film prepares to open, some Christians are planning to stay away, using such excuses as "I don't like violence in movies" or "I don't want my kids to see Jesus like that." One Christian teen told me she wasn't going to see it because it represented "too much movie ketchup for me." By further distancing themselves from the reality of the crucifixion, they are missing a life-changing opportunity to draw closer to God, to relate a little more completely to the suffering Jesus went through on our behalf. What is portrayed in the film is a true moment in history. It happened. It was witnessed by hundreds of thousands gathered for their annual Pilgrimage to the Passover celebration. It was a graphical event, and that is what made it such a catalyst for change. The more we understand what Jesus went through, the more we can see the greatness of His love and the more we can appreciate the glory being offered to us as He reached out through that event with love and grace to bring us all the opportunity to reign with Him in the hereafter.

Mel Gibson has plunged a knife into a bloodless culture. If there is any life left within, perhaps it will stir our society into action. Whatever your religious views are, I hope you take the time to see the film and reflect on how that event impacted history. In the process you may find yourself drawn closer to the reality of a God who loves you beyond measure.

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