"All we know of Love is that Love is all there is." I was reminded of this paraphrase of a line from an Emily Dickinson poem (which I first came across several years ago on the front of a greeting card), with all of its metaphysical, epistemological and moral significance, by this article on Strike-the-Root titled The Earthly Lesson of Jesus' Crucifixion. The author, Glen Allport, concludes his article with these thoughts:
The fundamental importance of love; the understanding that a loving world requires better treatment of children, and the flat assertion that "the kingdom of God is within you" are what I see as the most real and powerful of Jesus' teachings – or of anyone's teachings. These three teachings are the best short summary of human wisdom I have ever seen.
Allport also has some good things to say about Mel Gibson's artistic representation of The Passion of the Christ that ring true for me. Contrary to many of Mel's critics within not only secular and non-Christian but also liberal Christian circles, I have a lot of respect for the man, perhaps partly because before my convincement to Quakerism I was part of an (allegedly) schismatic Catholic society with views that appear similar to Gibson's, and I still see a logical consistency and merit in such traditionalist views. I think Allport captures a more fundamental basis for my continuing respect, despite my abandonment of Catholicism, for Gibson and The Passion of the Christ:
Jesus knowingly added a fourth teaching – of Power's hatred for all that is loving, decent, and real – by arranging for and allowing Roman soldiers to arrest, torture, and murder him. By the most vivid and courageous example possible, Jesus thus taught that the coercive State is an evil almost beyond imagining.
In "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson focuses on the cruelty and violence directed at Jesus by those in power. Gibson was predictably attacked for doing so. “All that violence; how distasteful! How disgusting that a film director would sell a movie about Christ with blood and torture and murder!” And so on. Yet “Passion” is defined as “a. The sufferings of Jesus in the period following the Last Supper and including the Crucifixion. b. A narrative, musical setting, or pictorial representation of Jesus's sufferings.” (The American Heritage Dictionary, third edition).
The emotional damage of Jesus’ contemporaries, and their cruelty – especially as empowered by coercive government – formed the milieu that Jesus lived in, and this milieu was the reason for his ministry in the first place. The New Testament details some of the unhealthy, violent, coercive, and corrupt aspects of life that Jesus was working to change. Jesus was willing to die on the cross – he knew that he would, in all likelihood, be murdered in that exact fashion – because he felt and believed that every person needed and desired, with all their heart, a compassionate and healthy world, instead of the corrupt, violent, hate-drenched world of coercion and pain that every new child of his time was born into. That reality was clearly so painful to Jesus that even the threat of his own death could not keep him from starting a ministry aimed at changing the world for the better.
In fact, the violence, torture, and murder are essential elements of the Christ
story; without these elements, there IS no story. Without these elements, there
would have been no need for Jesus to champion love and compassion at the cost of
his own life. Without these elements, Jesus would have simply lived a healthy,
compassionate life among his family and friends, dying in bed at a ripe old age,
and two thousand years later we might never have heard of him.
Of Mel Gibson’s other films, "Braveheart" in particular parallels "The Passion" in that Braveheart’s hero, William Wallace, knowingly risks his life (eventually losing it, after being tortured in public) for the sake of a better world – in particular, for love and freedom.
This linking of love and freedom is another powerful insight on Gibson’s part. Love and freedom truly are linked; indeed, like Yin and Yang, love and freedom are two sides of a central duality in human life. To champion Love is to oppose coercive Power, which is to side with Freedom. Love and freedom must be kept in a reasonable balance, and at high levels, for a healthy society.
By spending $30 million of his own money on a film about Jesus that nearly everyone thought would fail, and which (to no one’s surprise) brought Gibson much criticism and even insults, Gibson showed hints of the same willingness to risk himself for what is right that made his protagonists interesting and positive figures. Because he does not live in China or some other country that murders or tortures or imprisons people for their religious beliefs, Mr. Gibson was probably never in physical danger for producing a film about Jesus’ last days, but Gibson was not treated kindly in much of the press, and this was surely something he knew would happen before starting the project.
Furthermore, despite complaints to the contrary, I do not believe that "The Passion of the Christ" shortchanges Jesus’ message. The brief scene in which the doomed Jesus tells his followers to love one another would be enough, by itself, to convey the essence of Jesus’ teachings. (“So love one another” reads the English subtitle). Keeping this scene short, poignant, and without distractions gives it all the more emphasis. Also, the official trailer for the film**, which includes that line, also includes a text panel reading: “His message was love.” The film makes that message clear in a variety of ways, mostly by the actions and demeanor of Jim Caviezel, the actor who plays Jesus.
Because that’s my main point of view about the history of Jesus: I don’t know. I don’t know enough to dispute with any of these authors about their historical analysis. On the simplest level, I wasn’t there, and I don’t believe any one really knows what really happened 2000 years ago. And that’s okay with me. Borg empowered me to admit that I don’t know the truth about the virgin birth or the physical resurrection of Jesus. And to accept that it doesn’t matter to me, at least not right now, because my faith doesn’t rest on these propositions being literally true. My faith is built on the truth of Jesus’s existence in my own life and the transformative value of what is written about Jesus. I’m not caught up in whether it’s all myth or history or a combination of both, although I tend towards the “some of each” position, if you really want to know.