The Mischievous, Scandalous Spirit

I think God sometimes puts a passage of Scripture in our path to drive home to us something he wants us to learn. God did that with me over the course of this week, and I suspect He was doing it with others too. Three times this week, the story of Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth from Luke 4 was read in worship. The story was first read on Wednesday in chapel. Ironically, its appearance on this day was an “accident.” Dr. Purves, the liturgist for the day, was given the order of service, which contained a typo. He was supposed to read from Luke 24, this Sunday’s lectionary reading, but thanks to the typo, we heard Luke 4. The next day was ESF chapel, and we used the same text as the basis for our drama and sermon. Then again tonight for the Metro Urban Institute’s Intensive Weekend, the preacher’s sermon was based on this text. Three days in a row the story of Jesus reading from the scroll in Isaiah in his hometown was read in worship at PTS. The leaders of the three services had no interaction with one another, and the text doesn’t appear in either the daily lectionary for this week or in the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday. Is this just a coincidence, or is the Holy Spirit up to some mischief?

As I’ve reflected on this passage of Scripture over the past three days, what’s struck me the most is how easy we try to make this teaching of Jesus. The people of Nazareth wanted to kill Jesus by the end of this story because they were so enraged at the thought of Syrians receiving benefits from the “year of the Lord’s favor.” In ESF chapel, no one wanted to throw us out (even if we staged a fake “mob”) when we said that this teaching of Jesus implies a concern for all the nations of the world. Tonight at the MUI worship, no one wanted to kick out the preacher who said that this teaching applied to the poor and oppressed of our cities. In fact, we gave the preacher a standing ovation. Is our lack of anger at this teaching simply because we’re so much like Jesus? Do we really get this more than the first hearers of it in Nazareth? I’m afraid not. It’s pretty easy for a bunch of mission-minded evangelicals to apply this text to global Christianity. It’s also easy for a group of urban pastors and lay leaders to apply this text to the oppressed in their own city.

This isn’t to say that the text doesn’t apply to these groups; it does. BUT, the text is just as much a call to the reader to move beyond the box of their own concerns. As an evangelical in America, I can’t help but wonder who this text is reminding me of. Illegal immigrants maybe? Terrorists? I’m not certain. All I know is that until I start to get a bit angry at what Jesus is trying to teach me here, I probably haven’t figured it out.

Revisiting the Passion of the Christ

Tonight at KUPC Large Group, we watched the Passion of the Christ. I hadn’t watched this movie since my first time seeing it in college. What I remembered about it more than anything was the graphic, and at times gratuitous, violence. Seeing it this time around, though, was a different experience. Maybe it was just because we skipped the really gross (though probably accurate) scene where Jesus is beaten by the Romans, but this time around I wasn’t as bothered by the violence and noticed a couple of other things about Mel Gibson’s interpretation of the passion.

 Firstly, Peter’s denial of Christ is portrayed in a very poignant, realistic way; a way in which I hadn’t thought of. In my imagine, I’ve always pictured Peter’s setting to be a somewhat quiet circle of people standing at a safe distance from what is going on. I imagine the conversation to be somewhat slow, and Peter’s denial to be quite deliberate. Gibson, though, puts Peter right next to the action, in the middle of a crowded, hostile mob. Peter’s trying to find safety, just like any other reasonable human being. The scene is chaotic, and the three accusations and subsequent denials go by so quickly that if you blink you miss them. In this portrayal, Peter’s denial comes across less deliberate and more instinctive. I found it almost difficult to watch, because the film made denying Christ a sin much easier to commit.

 Secondly, Gibson does a beautiful job portraying the relationship between Jesus and his mother. He does this especially well through the use of flashbacks. One of the more poignant flashbacks comes when Jesus is carrying his cross past Mary. He stumbles, and the movie immediately cuts to a scene from Jesus’ childhood where he falls and Mary comes running to the aid of her child. The movie then cuts back to Mary following her motherly instincts, coming to the aid of her bloodied son. This scene, and several others in the movie, give a thoughtful and beautiful depiction of what Mary endured witnessing her son be crucified.

 I think it’s unfortunate that it took a second viewing of this movie to recall some of these poignant details which were overshadowed in my first viewing by the violence which is portrayed. I think the violence was pretty accurate to history, but was it necessary to be shown so graphically? Did Gibson provide any insights like the ones I mention above through the portrayal of violence? Does the violence provide anything more than shock value? Would the movie be less profound if it were less violent?