I happened to catch The Greatest Story Ever Told on a day full of Charleton Heston's greater and (mostly) lesser movies on Turner Classic Movies yesterday. It was the first time in several years that I saw this particular "Jesus flick" and some of its content resonated strongly with some of the religious issues on my mind these days. (As this entry will venture somewhat into the realm of the religious, reader beware... I suppose that my thoughts and views could cause offense.)
First of all, I have to say that casting Max Von Sydow as Jesus... well, that it is an unconventional choice is true, but, can you be any more WASP-y when creating an image of Jesus? I don't know what it is like in other parts of the world, but, the popular image of Jesus seems to be tall, blue eyed, and decidedly northern European looking. Sure the look for the Apostles can vary a lot, but Jesus has got to look just so.
It seems decidedly racist. Jesus lived in the Mediterranean world, among a population that did not extensively intermarrry with other neighboring populations. I'm not saying that he was ready to play an extra in the movie Deliverance,
but, maybe he was a short, dumpy, olive-skinned bald guy and not the tall, blue-eyed icon that we Americans seem to popularly imagine. Would that really be so bad?
As I was watching the movie, I kept seeing some kind of melding of George W. Bush and Jerry Falwell, instead of Martin Landau, as Caiaphas. Given the fact that the real "thinkers" (and I use the term loosely, given the amount of thought they seem to apply) of the national government today seem to LOVE to put ideology before practical fact, I kept wanting to identify the Pharisees with the Christian Right in the United States today. True, we Catholics should be (and are) downright embarassed about how our leaders have behaved politically and morally, but, I had to wonder about how Jesus would be received today. How would Jerry Falwell react if Jesus re-appeared as an itinerant backwoods preacher? Just like anyone plugged into a political power structure, I get the feeling that the reaction might not be pretty, especially if that preacher admired and embraced people he saw as disenfranchised... minorities, gays, AIDS victims, whoever.
A recent sermon I heard at Sunday Mass had strong resonance with the line from the movie (and the Bible) that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the gates of Heaven". As I get further along in life, the more I think that this is true. The more material posessions you have, the more your being is consumed with increasing or maintaining that number and the more abstract human relationships seem to be. Being poor points the growth of the soul in a completely different direction -- toward people, relationships, and (less comfortably) the environment. America is richer than rich according to the standards of nearly all of the rest of the world. What does that say about us morally, as human beings?
on 2003-08-15 at 6:17 a.m.
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