Women and The Passion

Finally, Jesus is portrayed as a real, masculine man – who loved and respected women.

I saw The Passion of the Christ last night. I don’t think I’ve quite recovered yet.
It was an amazingly powerful experience. I knew it would be difficult for me, because I’m squeamish by nature. I closed my eyes a lot. By the time I left, my whole body hurt. 

But it was so, so worth it.

The overall point of the movie, of course, is almost too enormous to grasp. He went through all of that for me. He didn’t have to endure one minute of that torture. But he chose to, for me. And not only that, but He suffered because of me. My sins somehow put Him on that cross.

In my whole life, I’ll never fully absorb that.

I was particularly struck by several aspects of the movie. First of all, this is the first movie I remember where Jesus is portrayed as a truly masculine man. All of the other “movie Jesuses” I recall were sort of vaguely effeminate men with quiet voices and gentle mannerisms. This Jesus is a man. I like that. One would have to assume that, since Jesus was God made Man, he would perfectly embody the ideal of true masculinity. I don’t know who told all of these other producers that the masculine ideal is reflected in a wimpy guy with a faraway gaze, but I’m glad Mel Gibson saw it differently.

And, flowing from that, I was struck by the way He interacted with women. Granted, I was sort of “tuned” to that wavelength. Just last week I taught a class on Women in the Church. In preparing for the class, I leaned heavily on John Paul II’s apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem. The Holy Father, in that letter, discusses at length how Jesus related to and interacted with women. He respected them. He delighted in them. He befriended them. He showed interest in their opinions. He protected them. He made them His disciples. He constantly acknowledged their incredible dignity as image and likeness of God. 

It’s one thing to read that. It’s quite another to see it play out on the screen.

Toward the beginning of the film, there is a charming flashback where we see Jesus playfully teasing His mother. I loved that scene. Jesus is so real, and the genuine human love between Him and His mother is so beautiful to see.

In another flashback, Jesus is delivering the Sermon on the Mount, in which he admonished his listeners to “love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.” Important, of course. But it also reminded me of another admonition He gave in that same Sermon: “You have heard it said ‘thou shalt not commit adultery.’ But I tell you, any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.”

I’ve always known that is a powerful, important scripture passage. John Paul II based the whole second series of his Theology of the Body on that line. But in the context of this strong, loving, masculine Jesus, it takes on a whole new depth. It’s as if He’s saying “These beautiful women are created in My image and likeness. Not only are you not to abuse them – you are not to entertain ideas about abusing them. They are precious in my sight, they are entrusted to you and you are to respect and treasure them.”

And then there was the scene where the adulteress is being stoned. I never saw so clearly before how Christ is protecting her – a strong, compassionate man standing up to an angry mob on behalf of a woman who is considered “unclean.”
All of this was such food for thought for me. We live in a culture that still can’t figure out what to do with women. Some see us as “objects” to be used for sexual gratification. (Or, in the “religious” version of that error, they see us as objects that they’re not allowed to use for gratification – we’re more like “walking occasions of sin” who must be avoided as much as possible.) Others see us as some form of “alternative men” who won’t find fulfillment unless we’re acting like men and doing their work.

Jesus saw (and sees) us for what we are – His image and likeness. He loves us and respects us as women. Maybe knowing He sees us that way can help us see ourselves that way.

As we were leaving, I though about Ephesians 5. You know, where Paul says, “Wives be submissive to your husbands.” Men love to quote that passage. Of course, they always forget the passage that comes after it: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself up for her.” Somehow, I doubt that men who have seen The Passion will be casually throwing that passage around any more. This whole ‘gave Himself up’ part could be a little more difficult than they had anticipated.

See the movie. Look at Jesus, and at how He gazes at each soul – women and men -- with whom he comes into contact. Look at the way He suffers. And tell yourself one thing, over and over:

“He did this for me.”