Recently, Churches in my diocese and surrounding area have begun promoting the new movie “Son of God” directed by Christopher Spencer. Although I hadn’t sought out the movie myself, when some friends expressed interest, I chose to go. What it left me with was a profoundly moving experience.
Son of God is a frame story starting with the apostle John, exiled on Patmos, who reflects on the life of Jesus and His mission to change the world. The artistic liberties taken by the director dynamically capture the life of Jesus, presenting His teachings in a fresh and striking manner. Though some movie-goers seeking a more literal approach to the Gospels may be disappointed by the historical inaccuracies*, Spencer’s “spirit of the Gospel” approach has produced a riveting and dramatic rendition of Jesus’ ministry.
One of the strong suits of the film is its climactic nature and well-meditated political interplay between the Pharisees, the Jews, the Romans, and Jesus, which led to his death. It was a strong reminder of the aspects we easily forget: Jesus’ message was radical, and the Pharisees didn’t know what to make of Him: was He a prophet? The Messiah? Or a peasant with a pension for stirring up the Jews? With the influx of Jews in Jerusalem swelling the streets for the approaching Passover, Son of God skillfully portrays Caiaphas’ mounting concerns that any outbreak of trouble amidst the existing tensions between the Romans and zealots would cause great bloodshed and restrict the Jew’s access to the Holy Temple. The Pharisees then brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate, where Pilate was forced into a tight position, knowing if he let Jesus free when the people proclaimed him their king, it would cost him dearly with Caesar.
Additionally, Spencer artfully repositioned some of the Gospel stories to yield a new and deeper perspective on the familiar. For example, the call of Levi was juxtaposed with a Pharisee judgmentally questioning Jesus’ choice of companions, to which Jesus replied with the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee, teaching that all are sinners, and our humility of heart is most important.
The most powerful part of the movie was the Last Supper, where Jesus told his disciples it was their last meal together, as He would be put to death. He then broke the bread and gave it to His disciples, and shared the cup, telling them that the bread that was broken was His body, beaten and broken, and the wine His blood, poured out for them. This morning at Mass I realized why it is so fitting to have the image of the crucifix in the front of the Church, to remind us that the crucifixion itself is happening right beneath it on the altar! As the children pay for the sins of the parents, so the Son of Man, the unblemished Passover Lamb of God, was sacrificed to pay for our sins.
The movie left many parables unsaid and the viewer thirsty for a longer walk with Jesus. Yet, it ended with Jesus’ strong message that “my Kingdom is not of this world”, and “the wind blows where it wills. . . so it is with those born of the Spirit”: our call to recognize that we are not of this world, and we are meant to rise and follow Him, on whatever path He may lead us. Because we are never alone, and He is present to us in the breaking of the bread.
*A few of the glaring inaccuracies (among others) include:
Judas’ partaking in the first Eucharist [Tradition has it that Judas left before the breaking of the bread, as the Eucharist is reserved for those in the state of grace]
Pharisee’s entrance into the Praetorium before Pilate [Jews were not permitted to enter a sinner’s house during Passover, as they would be defiled]
Simon is referred to as “Peter” from the beginning [His name was Simon before Jesus called him “Cephas” or Peter, which means rock]
For those looking for a more true-to-story film about Christ's passion and death, I recommend Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.”