Friday, August 5, 2011

Rev. Anthony Mays talks about the movie 'The Passion of The Christ'

Rev. Anthony Mays, Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church
The Passion of the Christ is a movie that focuses on the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus. It opens with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani, located on the slope of the Mount of Olives. Jesus appears to be in a state of anguish, seemingly knowing of the fate awaiting him in a matter of hours. Coming from the Last Supper, Jesus is cognizant that he had been portrayed by Judas Iscariot. The  portrayal  subsequently led to the arrest of Jesus.  

A synopsis of the 2004 movie states: ". . . leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy; subsequently, his trial results with the leaders condemning him to his death. Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Palestine, for his sentencing. Pilate listens to the accusations leveled at Jesus by the Pharisees. Realizing that his own decision will cause him to become embroiled in a political conflict, Pilate defers to King Herod in deciding the matter of how to persecute Jesus.

"However, Herod returns Jesus to Pilate who, in turn, gives the crowd a choice between which prisoner they would rather to see set free--Jesus or Barabbas. The crowd chooses to have Barabbas set free. Thus, Jesus is handed over to the Roman soldiers and is brutally flagellated. Bloody and unrecognizable, He is brought back before Pilate who, once again, presents Him to the thirsty crowd--assuming they will see that Jesus has been punished enough. The crowd, however, is not satisfied. Thus, Pilate washes his hands of the entire dilemma, ordering his men to do as the crowd wishes.

"Whipped and weakened, Jesus is presented with the cross and is ordered to carry it through the streets of Jerusalem, all the way up to Golgotha. There, more corporal cruelty takes place as Jesus is nailed to the cross--suffering, He hangs there, left to die. Initially, in His dazed suffering, Jesus is alarmed that He has been abandoned by God his father. Eventually, He overcomes his fear and with his last breaths, tells Mary, his Mother, 'It is accomplished.' He then beseeches God, 'Into Thy hands I commend my spirit'. At the moment of His death, nature itself over-turns".

Matthews 27:21-26: " . . . The governor answered and said to them, 'Which of the two do you want to see release to you?' They said, 'Barabbas!' (22) Pilate said to them, 'What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?' They all said to him, 'Let Him be crucified!' (23) Then the governor said, 'Why, what evil has He done?' But they cried out all the more, saying, 'Let Him be crucified!' (24) When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, 'I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.' (25) And all the people answered and said, 'His blood be on us and on our children.' (26) Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified".

Movie critics graded the movie from A+ to C-. Moviegoers also walked away with mixed reviews and reactions. The Passion of The Christ, is a controversial movie produced and directed by Mel Gibson. Many Jews were angry at the movie’s suggestion that they were portrayed as being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. They declared it was antisemitic. Outspoken Jews undertook the task of  getting the movie banned in theaters. The verbal stab at Gibson missed its target. 

No Hollywood money would back the movie financially. Gibson, a well known actor of westerns and action movies, was told there was no audience for this kind  movie, despite earlier movies about Jesus and the crucifixion, that were financially successful. But Gibson was not deterred. He was determined to make the movie. Gibson financed it himself.  So far Passion of the Christ it has netted millions of dollars all over the world. It is expected to garner near a billion dollars when CD sales kick in.

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, gave the movie a C. He thought it should have been a religious experience. He wrote: The Passion of the Christ should have left audiences in a state of exaltation, instead it just leaves audiences exhausted”. Gibson chose to focus on the crucifixion.

Not being knowledgeable about the Bible, I decided to interview Rev. A. W. Anthony Mays, senior pastor of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Austin, Texas on Cameron Road. I had visited his church several times and thought he was a good choice to give me his interpretation of the movie, and to explain the misinterpretations.  This version of the interview is much longer than the original copy that appeared in The Villager in 2004.

Dorothy: Is Jesus a title? Or is it Jesus the Christ?

Rev. Mays: His personal name is Jesus. Christ is actually a title, which means the anointed one, the chosen one. But over a period of time, shortening things as we tend to do, it has become Jesus Christ. Some people confuse that with a personal name. It’s Jesus. Christ is equivalent to the Messiah. The Christ comes from the Greek translation as the Jewish Messiah. So it’s a title.

Dorothy: So what was Jesus’ passion? Was it God’s passion manifested through him?

Rev. Mays: Actually the word passion means suffering. I don’t want to confuse that with the emotional feeling of passion. The word passion in the scripture is in reference during religious times. It has to do with a period and time of suffering. It talks about Christ during the passion, or going through the passion, or passion week as religious tradition gives us. It’s referring to his crucifixion and his time of trivial.

Dorothy: Some moviegoers had a problem when Jesus was in the Garden. Explain that scene according to your interpretation.

Rev. Mays: Well, I have not seen the movie. But in the Bible at the Last Supper, Christ sought a place to go into prayer. He was consciously aware of the Cross that was before him. When He goes to the Garden of Gethsemani, He goes to be in intense prayer with the Father. Gethsemani is the symbolic name of all those who come together to prepare for the Cross experience. But as I’m hearing from reliable sources, the author, the writers of the movie, interjected in certain scenes, things that come from Bible teachings. But I wouldn’t want people to be confused that’s actually what happened in the Garden.

Dorothy: There was one scene where Satan shows up . . . appearing very womanly. . . almost seductive. Was this one of the temptations?

Rev. Mays: I understand they must have done that in flashback. The temptations, what we call 'The Three Temptations in The Wilderness', actually took place at the beginning, the earliest of Christ’s earthly ministry. When he was preparing to launch his public ministry he was baptized. After he was baptized he had this period of testing. In our religious experience we understand there is always this period of testing to see if the servant will be obedient, submissive, will follow the will of the Lord.

So in the wilderness the temptations Satan was trying to get Christ off track. Satan was trying to get the Christ to use his powers selfishly, such as turn the stone into bread. He was trying to get him to test God by jumping off of a high pinnacle. And then finally the temptation was: ‘I can give you the world without a Cross if you’ll just bow down and worship me. If you'll serve me you won’t have to go to a Cross.’ And of course Christ rejected all three of the temptations. So the temptation experience, with all biblical characters, is the time that they must remain steadfast to the purpose of their calling.

Dorothy: So Satan himself did not show up while Christ was in the Garden?”

Rev. Mays: Not in bodily form. That is one of those areas where I want people to know the difference between actual Scripture, and Hollywood taking a creative license. The temptation experience was a part of the life of Christ.

Dorothy: Some people said Mel Gibson stuck with the scripture, some said he didn’t.

Rev. Mays: The sources that I have said he did not go with it word for word, in the chronology of the scripture. He didn’t stay true to the scripture.

Scene from Passion of the Christ
Dorothy: I understand that he had choices, but could Jesus have change his destiny? What if the crucifixion hadn’t happened?

Rev. Mays: Well, the scripture teaches that Christ could have made a choice. The glorious thing is he chose to be obedient to the Father’s plan. The reality of it was, he actually did have a choice. He could have resisted, but he chose not to resist. Paul writes in part of the scripture in book of first Corinthians that if Christ did not die, and rise again from the grave, then we would still be living in sin. We would still be lost. We would not have any hope because of our imperfection, and because of our being born in a sinful condition. There would be no remedy.

Dorothy: Critics were critical of the crucifixion scene. They felt it was too brutal. They wanted a less violent, cleaner crucifixion. It seems they couldn’t endure what they saw on the screen. Why do we need something quick and clean rather than the reality of that event?

Rev. Mays: I believe the reactions that are being described to me, are the reactions of the brutalization of the crucifixion  . . .  portrayed on the screen in such a manner, in such a way, and the length of time--that is a very dominant part of the movie. Of course we have something in our human nature that makes us cringe at the sense of violence. I believe that generally, persons wanting it to be a quick death is, because they are not comfortable with realizing the extent of Christ’s love for us to endure that; to see it and know that he did it for us. My personal experience was back in seminary. I had a professor who in very conversational tones described the crucifixion in such a way it really pierced me within my spirit, what Christ must have endured.

Dorothy: What did he tell you?

Rev. Mays: He told about the kind of pain, the bodily degree, the length of time, the number of lashes, the method of scourging, the nails, the hanging (from the Cross). He described it in such detail that you could vividly imagine it. I have not seen in any other movie about Christ where they show in detail–as I’m told–the degree of that physical punishment where you can see it, the blood and the like. People want to turn away from that. Actually, it says something about the great weight of sin when we see how much he suffered for us.

Dorothy: When I looked at the movie, each time he was struck, I literally felt the blow myself. I flinched. I wonder if that is what Mel Gibson wanted us to do, to feel what Christ went through for our sake?

Rev. Mays: I think that would be a reasonable conclusion, because at some point, as I read the reports, Mel Gibson has some kind of significant experience in his own life. It came so clear to him that I think that was his drive in making the movie, making it different as other religious scenes. He didn’t spare us the feelings. And perhaps it was well his intention that we would sense even the pain, even to the extent you described, the flinching when the licks were being administered to the Christ.

Dorothy: There were some moviegoers who said they had gone to the movie and were healed. They said they were nonbelievers, but when they left the movie they had become believers. Is it possible for a movie to have that kind of affect? I read that one woman had a heart attack after seeing the movie.

Rev. Mays: I think it depends upon what a person is susceptible to--the preparation of person’s mind of the experience. I do believe that Christ is a healer, and I believe that He can heal, that He operates through faith for healing. So I can’t discount that a healing took place. I don’t believe that was the purpose of the movie. I do believe that Catholics in their tradition, are very open to the miraculous visitations by Christ and images in strange places. I think the culture of that tradition prepares people, and makes people open to that. I do believe it’s possible a nonbeliever can actually become a believer. Though I have not seen the movie, I question how the resurrection was portrayed.

Dorothy: They didn’t show that part.

Rev. Mays: And that was a disappointment for me. A disappointment, meaningfully so, in the experience of the crucifixion. But our faith is about the victory of the resurrection, and I’m disappointed that His victory over death and the grave is not made clear. Other than that it’s a tragic story. So it ends with the tragedy but not taking us to the glorious victory.

Dorothy: Speaking of resurrection, I am sure you’ve heard the Shroud of Turin. Scholars and scientists have done all kinds of tests on the cloth but they can’t figure out how the image got on it. The way Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described Jesus, he fits that image. Why do you think people refuse to believe this might have been Jesus’ image?

Rev. Mays: Well, for me personally, I read in the Bible that man tends to worship relics of the past. In the old testament Moses did something in order to keep people from worshiping those items. Actually, the elements were destroyed to keep the people from worshiping them. The Shroud of Turin, to me, is along that line, in the great interest on whether this was actually the cloth that Christ was wrapped in for his burial. I would rather focus upon the truth of the resurrection, and not place a great weight on if it’s actually the cloth or not. It may well be a mystery, but for me, I don’t want to frame it or bow down to it. If it’s not the cloth it does not destroy my faith. It’s not a crucial issue.

Dorothy: Back to the movie. The Jewish community is upset because, they say, it gives the impression that Jews killed Jesus.

Rev. Mays: Well, according to the scriptures they were conspirators. They manipulated the Roman system at the time to get Christ to the Cross. They weren’t the executioners, because Roman law did not allow them to carry out legal executions. So they manipulated the Jewish leaders, the Romans and put pressure on them to crucify Christ. In that sense they did participate and they did cause the death of Christ.

Dorothy: What role did Pontius Pilate play? In the movie he was very indecisive.

Rev. Mays: In the scripture Pilate is manipulated by the Jews. In scripture reference, the gospel records, Pilate could not find reason to crucify Christ. He could not determine anything that Jesus was actually guilty of, or worthy of death. And his examination of Christ, in the scripture, said, ‘I find no fault in this man.’ But because the Jewish crowd said to him that if he did not execute Jesus, he was not a friend of Caesar. Pilate did not want to get in trouble with Caesar or with the Roman authorities.

His position was dependent upon Rome being pleased with how he handled the territory. And so out of fear, Pilate allowed Jesus to be crucified. He said himself, ‘I wash my hands of this man’s blood.’ And that’s the point, in scripture, that the crowd said ‘Let His blood be upon us and upon our children.’ And that, to me, is where I’m disappointed that Mel Gibson backed away from that because of the pressure that the Jews applied.

Now to be fair to the Jewish sensibilities, historically, a lot of terrible people have justified hatred and violence toward Jews, because they believe they crucified the Lord, and say they are deserving of whatever hatred or violence they suffered. But that’s a twisting of the Scripture. That would be holding a whole nation accountable for the evil of a few men. I am disappointed that he (Gibson) said I’m going to follow Scripture, but would pick and choose what he’s going to put in, what he’s going to keep out to please the modern day theaters. I understand he didn’t want to produce a movie that twisted minded persons would use to become anti-Semitic.

Dorothy: People seem to be looking for something, but they can’t accept Jesus. They can’t accept God. What are they looking for?

Rev. Mays: Looking for God on our own terms.

Dorothy:  We want be God? We want to control other people?

Rev. Mays: When I go back Genius records the original sin, Satan came to Eve, and I believe the real hook that caught her was when Satan disagreed with God. God had said don’t eat thereof (the fruit on the tree) or you will surely die. Satan comes along an says ‘No. No. You’re not going to die, but you will become as God.’ I think that man in his natural state wants to be his own god. He really doesn’t want a god above him. And so the God of the Bible is uncomfortable for the nonbeliever. He wants to find fault with him, because he wants to go his own way. He doesn’t want to be answerable or accountable. He wants to live as his own god; independent, making his own choices and decisions. But he keeps running into life situations, and then he knows is not a god.

Dorothy: Explain to me what a Christian is. People keeping saying ‘I’m a Christian’ but I don’t see it in their hearts and deeds.

Rev. Mays: That is a good question. What is a Christian? In the Scripture, Christian was not a thought out definition. It was not someone trying to be accurate. Because the scripture says after faith had become visible and active, it was only later on in a place called Anthea that they were first called Christians. That’s the first time we see that word. The understanding is that a Christian is a believer in Christ, a follower of Christ. Simply stated in the Bible, a Christian would be someone who believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God, that he came into the world through the virgin birth of Mary. That he died on the cross for our sins, and rose again, and ascended back to the Father and one day he shall return.

Now, persons who confess that with their mouth, who believes it in their heart, are indeed Christians. You have weak Christians and you have strong Christians. You have baby Christians and you have mature Christians. All kinds of Christians. But the real distinction according to the Bible has to be in what a person believes. It’s said that some people say I’m a Christian, and their lives don’t parallel their confession.

Dorothy: I hear some preachers talk about The Rapture, and I’m assuming that’s the return of Jesus. After 9/11 you would have thought he was right around the corner. So what is The Rapture? Will we know when it comes?

Rev. Mays: The Rapture is a term that describes a future event where the believers in Christ are going to be caught up. That’s what the words means to be 'caught up.' It means when Christ shall appear the second time. Those that believe in him will not experience death if they are alive. It means literally that they would rise from the earth. The Rapture means that those who have died in faith and been buried, will rise from their graves. There is a later time when the earth comes to its final conclusion. It has to do with the war called Armageddon, which has to do with the final judgment. The Rapture is a preview to the final event.

I wonder why 9/11 got the attention that it did in the religious community, even in American history. I don’t know the number or the statistics, but Pearl Harbor was an attack. I don’t understand the rational of saying 9/11 was a terrorists attack. I can understand how unsuspecting America was. That showed how venerable we were for that to happen as it did. But to tie that to some religious calendar event, saying that the end is right around the corner because of 9/11, that is not a conclusion I came to based upon my own understanding of the scripture.

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