When Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” came out in 2004, one of the biggest criticisms of it was that it was unfairly negative in its portrayal of the Jewish authorities at the time, sparking fears in some quarters that it might lead to a rise in anti-Semitism.
But every work of art is ultimately only one-half of an act of creation that happens every time another person experiences it, and the result is unique to each individual reader, listener or viewer.
Here’s the story of one experience, as told in an “Open Letter to Mel Gibson”:
In 2006, two years after the release of “The Passion of the Christ,” well after the hubbub died down, your film changed my life. This is the letter I’ve wanted to write to you for eight years.
I am Jewish, taught the faith as a child, but never believed in God until after reading, ironically, Christian apologetics. I did that solely to understand how a respected mentor “could be so wise, yet believe in all that crazy Christian stuff,” as I was sure I was otherwise immune.
Quite unexpectedly, I became convinced that monotheism made sense and concluded, much to the annoyance of my still-secular self, that I either had to practice the faith into which I was born, or become a Christian.
Religious observance wasn’t my “thing” and it all seemed hard to swallow, so neither option was palatable. I prayed to a God I wasn’t sure I really believed in, to show me what was true and promised that, whatever it was that He revealed was true, that is what I would follow.
I already knew Judaism but had to investigate “that Christian thing.” I had previously thought the New Testament was some sort of … collusion or conspiracy, and that Gentiles had somehow been hoodwinked. Watching your film, all my preconceived certainties melted away as I “met” Jesus for the first time and came to fall utterly in love with Him.
While otherwise a well-educated woman from a top liberal arts college, I was embarrassingly unfamiliar with the Gospels, save what I’d seen in art history class. It never occurred to me to concern myself with Jesus or read the New Testament—the message growing up was that this wasn’t relevant.
So, when I first laid eyes on the opening scene of “The Passion,” I didn’t “know” that they were in Gethsemane, and I didn’t “know” the identity of the man Jesus was talking to was Peter. I lacked the “background of obviousness” that a cradle Christian would bring to the movie. I saw it all with fresh eyes.
Anti-Semitism, though, was something with which I was familiar, and yet didn’t see (believe me, I tried to find it.) I was vaguely aware of the Stations of the Cross from studying architecture and touring churches but this story was mainly new material.
Yes, it was hard to watch, it was violent and terrible and painful. What was surprising, only because I had never really thought about it, is that there weren’t any “Christians” in the movie, even though it was a Passion story. Most of the main characters were Jews, save Pilate and his underlings.
The details of my conversion are beyond the scope of this letter. Suffice it to say that your film, along with scholarly reading and much prayer, were instrumental.
I am now a Catholic.
Every Good Friday, I think of the tremendous influence “The Passion” had on my life and felt compelled to write you many times but never did. Reading Allison Hope Weiner’s recent plea to Hollywood at Deadline.com to give you a break caused me to finally realize that I was overdue. The hour has come.
While much of the world and certainly Hollywood has punished and hated you for making “The Passion,” I am forever grateful.
Thank you, Mr. Gibson.
~ Cynthia Kron, Los Angeles, Founder of CLICK Catholic Singles Events