By FR. ROLANDO V. DELA ROSA, O.P.
We begin today our Holy Week rites. What comes to mind while reading the lengthy gospel narrative is the gross depiction of the suffering and death of Jesus in the movie “The Passion of the Christ.”
It is one movie that fits perfectly into our guilt-laden culture. When it was shown in local theaters, many viewers wept as they watched the terrible ordeal of Jesus. While they munched popcorn and potato chips in their ergonomically designed theater seats, they were overwhelmed with remorse as they beheld the bloody face of Christ.
After two hours of indulging in an orgy of self-recrimination, they emerged from the movie house convinced that Jesus was the divine punching bag that stopped God from annihilating us, incorrigible human beings. They went home mumbling: “I and my sins caused the horrible suffering of Jesus!”
There was news that a man confessed to a brutal murder after he had seen the movie. But such a public show of repentance is the exception, not the rule. As usually happens, guilt is an ineffective motivator for change because it easily yields to rationalization. As one skeptic said: “Why should I blame myself for anything done to Jesus 2,000 years ago? How could I, a mere creature, cause God to suffer?”
As the movie’s director himself had declared, the movie was not made to induce guilt among the viewers. It does not blame the Jews or anyone of us for the death of Christ. The film is a brutal portrayal of the powerlessness and suffering of God. Paradoxical as it may seem, the way of suffering and weakness is exactly the way, and the only way, that God has chosen to save us.
Matthew 8:17 makes it crystal clear that it is not by His omnipotence that God saves us, but by his weakness and suffering. On the cross, Jesus is the embodiment of “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1Cor.1:23ff).
The movie’s primary purpose is to invite us to be participants, not mere spectators, in Jesus’ miserable plight. The movie’s message can be summed up in Jesus’ question to His apathetic disciples at Gethsemane: “Are you willing to suffer with me?” (Matthew 26:40). We have to banish from our minds the idea that Jesus is the ransom paid by God to release us from the devil’s grasp, and we can now just relax and enjoy ourselves all the way to heaven.
The movie succeeds in its intent, not when we feel sentimental about the sufferings of Christ, but when, for instance, a greedy politician tells himself after watching the movie: “I am the cause of the suffering of millions of Filipinos because I’m enriching myself at their expense.” Or, when a priest says: “There are many people who are losing their faith because of my pharisaic way of life.” Or when parents tell themselves: “Many children are wandering in the streets because we fail to make our home a place where they feel they belong.” Or when young people say: “The world is like this because I keep blaming others for my failures and mistakes, instead of taking responsibility for my decisions and actions.”
Unless we feel in our bones the hurt suffered by others because of our neglect, apathy, or cold-heartedness, watching “The Passion of the Christ,” or going through our Holy Week rituals will just be another guilt trip.