Many critics have unjustifiably criticized Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ which actually presents Jesus Christ’s supernatural love in the face of injustice and hatred.
Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ has stirred up emotions, controversy and extreme reactions. It was released in 2004. Since then critics have accused the film of encouraging anti-semitism and containing excessive violence and sadism. But their accusations turn out to be completely wrong.
Basically, the biblical drama – as its title explicitly indicates – covers the last hours of Jesus Christ’s life. Although there is no denying the fact that The Passion of the Christ presents violent and bloody scenes, many critics have not really focused on the film’s artistic content and its theological meaning. Judging from their criticisms, we can regard it as a – perhaps willingly – misunderstood film.
Prof. Dr. Martin Rhonheimer, a Catholic priest, brilliantly refutes the main charges against Gibson’s film in an article, reminding us of its central message: “The film’s central message is not the brutality of scourging and crucifixion but the transformation of these horrible sufferings into an offering of love to Jesus’ heavenly Father.” Rhonheimer’s article serves as the main source for the following section about the theological meaning of blood and the filmic representation of Christ.
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins – The Significance of Blood and Christ’s Supernatural Love vs Satan’s Superhuman Hatred
Several scenes point to the significance of blood. As far as the Bible is concerned, blood is one of the symbols of life.
When The Passion of the Christ shows the crucifixion, flashback scenes of the Last Supper are presented in between to make the audience aware that Christ’s blood is poured out for salvation. This corresponds to the lines in Matthew 26:28, which Jesus says in one scene: “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (King James Version; note: Jesus does not use the words of this version in the film.).
Notably, towards the end of the film Jesus does not bleed to death, while hanging on the cross. Instead, he dies consciously and freely after stating the following words: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Accordingly, the God-man, Jesus, accepts his heavenly Father’s will. Moreover, he gives the impression of having the sovereignty over what happens to him.
Throughout The Passion of the Christ Jesus reacts to human injustice and hatred with supernatural love. In contrast to Christ, who endures this injustice without complaint, various humans mock and torture him without mercy. However, as can be inferred from some scenes, Satan, for instance, brings the bloodthirsty Roman torturers under his control. Thus, Jesus actually fights against Satan’s superhuman hatred of God.
That means, neither the Romans nor the Jews are demonized because the Devil is portrayed as the epitome of absolute evil. At the end of Gibson’s film, by accepting his Father’s will, Jesus defeats Satan and achieves victory.
Rhonheimer, Martin. “Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”: A Plea for Fairness.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 8.1 (2005): 13-27.
The Passion of the Christ. Dir. Mel Gibson. Perf. Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, and Monica Bellucci. 2004. DVD. Capelight pictures, 2014.