The movie The Passion of Christ seems to be getting a lot of press. Some say it takes the old school position of blaming the Jews for Christ’s death. Others have rebutted saying that the criticism is based on an early version of the film, an incomplete movie that is nothing like the final version in theaters now… I wouldn’t know what to say since I have seen neither. All I know is that the movie is in Latin and Aramaic, and I would have to read the subtitles to watch a story I have heard countless of times in my youth. I am, to be honest, the kind of person who dislikes reading subtitles. I think it takes away from the movie, don’t you?
Now this may sound rather strange coming from a guy who teaches a Japanese film course in which the vast majority of students do not know Japanese or at least not enough to understand it without the subtitles. The course is very popular but, given my feelings, I often look at my many students and wonder–What the heck are you guys doing here? Hahahah! What an attitude for a teacher. I think the movies are great, and they have a lot to offer, but they can be appreciated so much more by knowing the language. I guess that’s why I don’t like watching movies in languages I don’t know, cuz I always suspect there is something I’m not getting… I am such the pharisee.
Which brings me back to my original thought: The Passion of Christ. The movie is about the final hours of Christ’s life as man, when he died for out sins. And not coincidentally, the film was released to coincide with Lent. As a Catholic who no longer goes to church and rarely follows the “rules” of being a Christian (I am so excommunicated), I was surprised to find myself pondering about the Bible, Lent, and my own set of beliefs.
I believe the Bible is a book that provides easy to understand stories and guidelines for conduct that can be intepreted by any changing society; it is not a collection of fast and unbendable rules–which is true of any text but that’s another topic. Did God creat the universe in six days? I don’t think so. I’m an evolutionist, not a creationist–although I am inclined to think he took Sunday off (now I’m really excommunicated). So is the Bible lying? Of course not! The Bible presented ideas–God created all life and it’s an amazing feat–in a manner that was easy to understand for people back in the day. Given this attitude toward the Bible, I often questioned the practice of giving things up for Lent.
Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday, and ends on Easter, is 40 days long and is considered a time of sacrifice, of self-denial, a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice Christ made for our sins.And while I’m not sure if Lent is based on the following passage, reference is often made to it during this time.
Matthew: 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. (NKJ)
As a child, I had heard this passage countless of times, reminding me of the suffering Christ went through, how Satan had tempted him with food, riches, power, and yet he never gave in. Oooooo. He was SO cool. He was SO strong–God knows, as does everyone else I know, that I would give in in a second. So how were we to apply this passage to our lives? Go out into the wilderness and fast? Ok, ok, more realistically, we were supposed to be strong, too, and give up something for Lent. For the adults around me it was chocolate or coffee or *shudder* TV. So we gave up one or–for the stronger among us–even three of our creature comforts. But what did we learn from this? Anything? Hmm, I didn’t… So, many years ago when I began to move away from my church, I decided to focus on, among other things, why did Jesus go into the wilderness.
Well, for me, Jesus went to reflect on what he was supposed to do. Indeed, his 40 days is preceded by being baptized by John and followed by his inexorable journey to his death, starting with the gathering of his apostles. So he went into the wilderness alone to focus on his purpose, his raison d’etre. His self-denial reflected a seriousness of purpose more than anything else, I think. So how do I apply my own interpretation to my own life? Do deny myself, as the priests and sisters of my youth told me? What happens to my life if I give up chocolate–dark chocolate!–for Lent? Or maybe a beer? Right, like that’s gonna happen. How about my absolutley most favorite sport, football? The fact that its not season makes it rather convenient. I mean anything I give up, will ultimately do nothing for me if I just go back to it after Lent. I mean, what’s the result of giving up chocolate, if you’re going to gorge yourself on chocolate bunnies and eggs on Easter? No, I will not give up anything for Lent. It is, to me, a practice that has no point. (So excommunicate me already.) Instead, I will reflect on my life, as I always do during Lent. I will consdier what I need to do to better myself, and in the process provide a better environment around me. How can I be a better husband or teacher? Colleague or friend? I have to believe that giving serious thought to these things will do much more than giving up CSI or kettle-cooked extra-crunchy potato chips. Yes, I will reflect on my purpose in life… over an ice cold brew.