An Orthodox priest friend of mine offered an interesting observation, in response to the Harvard Divinity School’s pseudo-academic panel discussion about Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” He writes:
I was struck today in a conversation with one of my catechumenal families who had just returned from seeing the Passion. The question came up, “Did you cry?” The answer was “a little,” but with addendum, “Whenever there was interaction between Jesus and his mother.”
I thought this was insightful, also because I thought the film, inter alia, gave a good treament of that relationship. And the comment was correct — the portrayal of that relationship makes you weep. Why? It would be a good discussion starter for protestant/catholic/orthodox on the topic of the Theotokos.
You know what? I have talked to lots of people who have had precisely the same response. There are people who are moved by the whole film and then there are many people whose reactions are more complex. They admire parts and reject others. They find some parts of the film over the top and deeply flawed, while other parts are — no doubt about it — quite moving.
And, even among Protestant friends, I have heard people say that the moments that grabbed their hearts had to do with Mary — the flashback to Jesus falling as a child, the sight of Jesus bravely pulling himself back to his feet under the lash, when he realizes his mother is watching. Then there is that final Pieta shot that defines the whole movie.
Putting my reporter’s hat back on for a moment, I wonder if there is an uncovered story here, a news story more nuanced than the black and white critical and political responses. All along, I have been waiting for the Protestant shoe to drop, so to speak. Mel Gibson’s film is soaked in old-fashioned Roman Catholic images and themes, which is one of the reasons it is so profoundly offensive to many American Catholics. They know what they are seeing.
Yet many evangelical and even fundamentalist Protestants DO NOT know what they are seeing. Yet they are moved all the same. Why is that?