The Lashing of the Christ Suffering and the Passion of the Christ

The Lashing of the Christ
Suffering and the Passion of the Christ


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The Lashing of the Christ
Suffering and the Passion of the Christ

Originally done as a performance piece to incite hatred against the Jewish people,
Mel Gibson’s version of the Passion of the Christ portrays Jesus’ gruesome suffering in his
last hours of his life. From severe physical beatings to the anguish of mental loss, each of
Gibson’s characters suffers uniquely. Within a context well-suited for a Caravaggio, Gibson
attempts to demonstrate the veracity of Christ’s kindness and faith, and while many
disagree with his methods, Gibson’s message is understood. Appealing to the fire-andbrimstone
Christian right, Gibson focuses away from Jesus’ teachings and instead attempts
to inspire faith through Jesus’ suffering.
Predictably, Gibson’s most excruciating suffering is reserved for Jesus. Physically, he
is brutally beaten after his capture, whipped within an inch of death, given a crown of
thorns, and – when that is not enough to satisfy the masses – he is crucified. More subtle,
however, is his degree of mental suffering. Jesus’ real pain seems to come from his feelings
of abandonment: Judas betrays him, citizens cheer for his death instead of a murderer’s,
Peter denies him three times, and he is haunted by devil at every turn. Most importantly,
however, he feels abandoned by his God, as he shouts after the ninth hour of his crucifixion
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”1 Some Christian groups attribute this quote
to an incorrect translation, but I believe that although Jesus still trusted in God’s goodliness
and love, he questioned why he must suffer so. Although his prayers seemly go unanswered

1 Matthew, 27:47
as he is subjected to horrific treatment, however, he never abandons his teachings. Thus,
Jesus’ message is emphasized; even after he has lost everything but his faith in God, he still
begs for the souls of his captors.
Television and media have numbed many of us to depictions of torture or violence,
yet Gibson still manages to shock the audience; the attack on Christ is almost an attack on
ourselves. It is not just the sheer brutality towards a kindly man who is powerless to fight
back that upsets us, it is how personal the attack is on ourselves; a great majority of society,
religious or not, knows of Jesus and his life. The suffering of the man that many of us know,
sometimes even as a friend, intensifies Jesus’ suffering for the audience.
However, Gibson does not reserve suffering for Jesus. His mother Mary is forced to
watch her son be tortured and killed. Mary suffers for her child; even staying at his side
during his crucifixion.2 Mary experiences the pain of any mother who is helpless to save her
son from death. Judas, after betraying Jesus, is tormented with guilt. His price for betrayal
is his soul and he eventually hangs himself. God unleashes his own suffering; an earthquake
cracks the Jewish temple, home to those who called for Jesus’ death.3 Even Pontius Pilate
suffers with the decision of condemning an innocent man to save his own political life.
Gibson also depicts the suffering of the prisoner who mocks Jesus’ faith, gruesomely
attacked by a bird and losing an eyeball. I found no such reference in the four Gospels,
leading me to believe Gibson added it to emphasize suffering of the unfaithful, inflicted by
God. One aspect of suffering Gibson leaves out, however, is Caiaphas. Roger Ebert, in his
film review, claims that Caiaphas does not appear eager to crucify Jesus. However, Gibson

2 Matthew, 27:57
3 Matthew, 27:52
leaves out the line where Caiaphas states that it is “better for one man to die for the people
[so] that the nation be saved.”4 Omitting this key phrase denies Caiaphas a degree of
rationality, mental suffering, and humanity, and instead paints him as stubborn and
spiteful, which has led many to label the movie as anti-Semitic.
Gibson attempts to resolve the Passion’s suffering in his closing scene, where Jesus’
Resurrection is portrayed. Jesus’ unstained bright skin as he rises from the grave is in stark
contrast to the bloody, tortured shell of a man portrayed before. According to Biblical
interpretation, Jesus was born, sacrificed, and reborn in order to demonstrate that death
was not the end of life. Therefore, His Resurrection is a resolution; even after the suffering
and death of this material world he is still able to be reborn intact. Another interpretation,
mentioned in Robert Ebert’s article, is that Christ, according to God’s will, came to Earth to
die for our sins.5 Perhaps death, and the end to his suffering, is in itself a resolution. Life
after death is important, but more so is the realization that this world and its sufferings are
not permanent; thus, Jesus’ acceptance of his death and his enduring faith are two key
Christian messages.
In conclusion, Gibson attempts to show Jesus’ faith throughout the movie within a
context of brutal suffering. He attempts to resolve it by introducing the concept of
Resurrection and afterlife, to demonstrate how Jesus’ and, indeed, our own suffering is
temporary. For many, however, the context of suffering is not the best way to portray
Christ’s faith. David Ansen, in his review, describes the “relentless gore [in Gibson’s movie]

4 Ebert, Roger. “The Passion of the Christ.”
5 ibid
as self-defeating,” where Jesus’ message is little more than an afterthought, interspersed
periodically in flashbacks. 6 Personally, I agree with Ansen’s assessment. This movie did not
inspire faith in me; instead, I felt it missed the point of Christ’s life. Mel Gibson’s portrayal
of Jesus begs the question of whether shocking brutality and suffering are the right ways to
inspire faith. Violence, inhumanity, and even crucifixion were an unfortunate part of our
bloody human history; if Jesus’ suffering was not unique from what some of our ancestors
may have undergone, why, then, does His inspire such faith? The answer lies not within his
suffering, which Gibson emphasized, but within his message, which is almost lost on the
viewers underneath a thick cake of blood. His messages of peace, forgiveness, and mutual
respect are why he is so respected and why his suffering is so shocking to us. It should
therefore be these teachings which are emphasized and used to inspire faith, rather than
Gibson’s gruesome context of pain and suffering.

6 Ansen, David. “So What’s the Good News?”


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