I was 14 when “The Passion of the Christ” came out, so while I couldn’t have seen it in theaters without my parents, I was probably old enough to watch it. Certainly, it seems strange that as a Catholic who enjoys watching movies, it took me this long to watch it. But I’ve always been afraid; the press around the movie’s release was so focused on how graphically violent it was.
But Christ’s Passion was, indeed, violent, and I think that finally watching the movie gave me a fuller appreciation of what – and more importantly why – He did.
(Disclaimer here: I am no theologian. Not even close. These are, like the contents of every blog post, my own thoughts, and in this case they are not supported by research, so I may be completely off, and if so, please comment below and let me know.)
I’ve always wondered, “I get that Jesus died for our sins, but why did He have to do that? Why couldn’t God have just been like, ‘You know what? Your sins are forgiven. The end.'” And I plan on reading more about this to learn what popes and saints have said, but while I was watching the movie, actually watching the reenactment of the crucifixion, it occurred to me that the intensity of being prosecuted, tortured and killed in so violent a way really makes a statement. It’s one thing to be told, “God loves you.” It’s another thing to realize, “Jesus loves me so much that he left paradise to come to a difficult and painful life on Earth and then was tortured and nailed to a cross so that I can join Him in that paradise.”
In Gethsemane at the beginning of the movie, Satan tells Jesus, “Do you really believe that one man can bear the full burden of sin?” The wording of that phrase – “the full burden of sin” – struck me as a storyteller before it struck me as a Catholic. Christ took on such a physically and emotionally painful experience in order to shift the burden of sin from His children’s shoulders to His own. That is an amazing story – and what’s more, it’s true.
We know that Jesus told stories throughout His life as a way to teach, so why wouldn’t He use His death to tell us the greatest story ever – the story of His love for us?
Which brings me to another story: the story of Simon, the man who helped Jesus carry the cross. As a writer, book lover and Catholic, I am a huge fan of “The Lord of the Rings” – the books and the movie. As an overly sentimental teenager, my favorite part of the movies was the scene where Sam says, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” (OK, who am I kidding? As a sentimental adult, that’s still my favorite part.) While watching the scene where Simon helps Jesus carry the cross, I immediately texted my boyfriend to tell him about the parallel I saw between Jesus’ struggle to Mount Calvary and Frodo’s climb to Mount Doom.
And the more I thought about it, the more I thought Jesus was, even more than Simon, kind of like Sam. Jesus doesn’t literally carry our burdens for us. He doesn’t come back to Earth to help us manage our careers, hold our hands through illness, or take the weight of anxiety or depression off our shoulders. He doesn’t carry that for us. But He does carry us. And that’s pretty exciting.