Sunday, February 08, 2004

A novelist looks at the Passion

Mel Gibson's movie has stirred up a lot of controversy, and the cloud of fury of some Jewish people's response is so thick that we Christians can't even get down to arguing among ourselves about it.

OK, just to get this out of the way, anti-Semitism is evil, and people, including Christians, who have committed crimes against Jews have done evil, and there is a disturbing rise of anti-Semitism around today, such that if I were a Jew, I would be nervous, too. Mel Gibson's movie is not part of that new anti-Semitism, and people who watch it are not going to come out of the theatre burning and pillaging among the Jewish community. That's simply not what the story is about.

But the novelist in me looks at the Great Story, which is human history, and asks why. Why was Jesus incarnated as a Jew--this Middle Eastern tribe, with its excellently preserved library of God's dealings with them? Why did he pick the time of the Pax Romana, that "worldwide" government of order imposed by force, when trade, commerce, travel, communication were at their most advanced in the ancient world?

I believe it was the principle of maximum capacity. In fiction, a character must always be acting at his maximum capacity, or you send the audience away in howls of laughter, as when the heroine goes into the haunted attic barefoot and carrying only one candle. If the character hasn't made her best effort to overcome the complication, then the story will be flawed, because the audience will never know how powerful either the antagonist or the protagonist was.

In the Great Story, the protagonist is humankind, and the antagonist is the force of Evil. One effect of Christ's coming was to reveal how broken humanity was. If he had come to the ancient Scotts (to pick my own ethnic extraction), the result would have been the same, but it wouldn't have mattered as much--because the Scotts are an even more obscure tribe with no vast recorded library of dealings with God. "Eh, the Scotts, they're savages anyway." Christ had to come to the Jews because they had the best chance of passing the test. The fact that they didn't shows not how bad the Jews were, but how broken the whole of humanity was and is.

He had to come to the Romans, because at that time it was the greatest, most powerful government in the history of the world. If any government had a view of justice and could rise to the fact that God, innocent and benevolent, was being accused of capital crimes, it was the Roman government. It failed. It's a failure that should, and has, made many political thinkers wary of the promises and possibilities of any government down through history.

But to clarify the point, in case any borderline anti-Semites or fearful Jews happen to read this: "The Jews" did not kill Christ. Humanity, warped by Evil, did. And all violence against the innocent, regardless of the religion or ethnic extraction of both the victim and perpetrators, participates in the killing of Christ.

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