Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
Most would probably agree that the best portrayal of Christ on film was Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ, and the movie as a whole is top-notch. However, because of the sheer violence of The Passion, I’d like to recommend an excellent family-friendly alternative movie about the life of Christ. Movies about Jesus come and go but Jesus of Nazareth is still hugely popular for many good reasons. I’ll share a few reasons why I personally recommend it.
First of all, the casting is extraordinary. The Virgin Mary is portrayed as strikingly beautiful as we would imagine her to be, and her humility and willingness to serve God are inspiring. Simon Peter is the burly over-confident fisherman. Joseph is strong and caring and good-natured. John the Baptist is powerfully outspoken yet saintly. Judas is treacherous but still human enough to remind us of our own potential weakness. Caiaphas the High Priest a dominating presence. Pilate is confused yet in-charge… and I could go on and on. Many famous actors of the 1970’s were well chosen for their roles in this movie. And of-course Robert Powell as Jesus is the stuff of cinematic legend.
In our modern times it can be easy to slip into the mindset that Jesus is our buddy. This can be inadvertently encouraged by popular portrayals of Christ that emphasize His humanity. This movie seems to lean more toward emphasizing Christ’s divinity, which is something that might make many people uncomfortable, but in the Gospels His very presence seemed to cause a healthy discomfort in the people who encountered Him. He came to save the world from sin, not give people a warm fuzzy feeling. He was probably rather intense considering His mission, and noticeably different from the people around Him (the piercing blue eyes in the movie help to illustrate this). While Jesus’ love is undeniable, we’re reminded that spending time with Him is not necessarily a comfortable experience. One of the main reasons I like this movie is because we get a sense of the amazement that we should have at the knowledge that God came to walk among men.
The Tree of Life (2011)
I watched this movie and appreciated it largely thanks to Fr. Robert Barron’s commentary on it. So I’ll just turn this movie recommendation over to him and allow you watch his video. Enjoy!
This may be the most important blog post I ever write. If you are a Christian, I wrote it for you. And it’s my sincere hope that my Evangelical friends and family might understand that my spiritual journey has been one of careful biblical study. My purpose here is to efficiently refute a common argument, thereby helping lead people toward a better understanding of John 6 and ultimately a more biblically-accurate Christian faith.
Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is an important part of Christian beliefs. It is based on the Last Supper that Jesus shared with His disciples before His crucifixion. The average Christian is probably familiar with this verse:
“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” -Luke 22:19
As followers of Christ, the command to “do this” is sufficient to convince us that it must be done, and so Christians everywhere agree that Communion in some form or another is important. But what is the reason why Jesus gave such a clear command?
Is there some deeper essential significance to this that we may not see?
This is where John chapter 6 comes in, where Jesus delivers His Bread of Life Discourse:
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” -John 6:51
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’” –John 6:53,54
“‘For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.’” –John 6:55
“After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him. Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…’” –John 6:66-68a
As Christians, what do we do with those verses? Well, for Christians who have a more liturgical approach to worship, and believe that bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ during Communion, these verses can easily be taken literally.
However, there are many Christians today who prefer a sort of symbolic Communion. They are content with eating crackers and drinking grape juice simply “in remembrance”. They do not believe that they must eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood, regardless of His words. When asked about John 6:53-55 (“he who eats my flesh… has eternal life…for my flesh is food indeed”), these self-labeled “Bible-believers” often just say “well, I don’t believe He meant that.”
Those who have studied the chapter inevitably base a defense of symbolic Communion on verse 63, where Jesus said,
“It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.” –John 6:63
Basically, they say “See? You have to read the whole chapter in context! In verse 63 Jesus clears it up by explaining how His earlier words were symbolic, or figurative, like a sort of parable. His main purpose is to speak spiritually of Himself as the source of salvation, but not that He literally wants us to eat His flesh. To make it extra clear He even says that ‘the flesh is of no avail.’”
Here are six reasons why that common argument doesn’t actually work. Take your time.
- In the Bible do we ever see a parable begin with “truly truly” (or “amen amen” or “verily verily” depending on your translation)? Jesus says those words when He wants to be extremely clear. Verses 53-55 are obviously intended to cut through any attempt to dodge His literal meaning.
- When John wrote his Gospel, he had an opportunity to say “Jesus was speaking symbolically” here, but he did not say that.
- Note that in verse 66, which follows the “clarification” in verse 63, people still leave Jesus over this, and He makes no attempt to stop them to clear up a misunderstanding.
- Are we as Christians supposed to understand everything spiritual in a figurative way? Is the word “Spirit” in Scripture to be taken as “symbolic”? I hope not.
- Note the obvious difference between “my flesh” (v. 55) and “the flesh” (v. 63). “The flesh” can be seen as carnal thinking or sinful nature in the following verses:
- Would Jesus declare His own flesh to be “of no avail”? No way! Not if His death on the cross was going to be a sufficient sacrifice.
So, “the flesh” in verse 63 is not the same as Jesus’ flesh, which he says is indeed the food that gives us life. So what is the meaning behind verse 63? Well, it makes sense that the people listening would not understand without the Spirit opening their eyes to the life-giving truth. Peter admitted that he didn’t understand yet… but Peter and those who trusted Jesus stayed anyway. Many others chose not to believe, and went their own way.
Since verse 63 does not offer a symbolic escape hatch, we must take verses 53-55 literally.
“…he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…”
The significance of this is monumental for anyone who wants to be part of a church that has sound doctrine. If your church has a merely symbolic Communion, do not let this subject rest on excuses or popular preference. Ensure that you are a part of the truly biblical, authentic Christian faith.
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” -1 Cor. 10:16,17
“My son, mark all your actions with the sign of the life-giving cross. Do not go out from the door of your house till you have signed yourself with the cross. Do not neglect that sign whether in eating or drinking or going to sleep, or in the home or going on a journey. There is no habit to be compared with it. Let it be a protecting wall round all your conduct, and teach it to your children that they may earnestly learn the custom.”
-St. Ephrem (d. 373) as quoted in “Radio Replies”
I look forward to reading Jimmy Akin’s new book, but in the mean time he’s put out a few short videos that contain good explanations regarding common concerns…
The series of videos can be watched here.
P.S. My internet access is sporadic these days, so although I’m happy to receive comments and discuss these important topics, please understand if it takes me a few days to address your comments.
The Way (2010)
This is a story about a group of people walking El Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), a traditional pilgrimage across Spain. These days, many people walk it for the hiking experience. Martin Sheen plays a modern busy American whose adult son (played by his real-life son and writer/director Emilio Estevez) is killed by a storm in the mountains while hiking the Way. Experiencing a father’s grief, he goes to Spain for his son’s remains, and decides to walk the Way, using his son’s gear.
It doesn’t take him long to acquire a few companions who amuse us more than they amuse him. As we’re drawn into their stories, their adventures along the Way, and the beauty of Spain and the Spanish culture, we find ourselves invested by the end in this crew of unlikely pilgrims, and we begin to see along with them the blessings of their journey. It’s a movie that emphasizes life, and experiencing it to the fullest. Sometimes we need to step outside of ourselves to really find ourselves. Beautifully filmed, with well-chosen music and an engaging plot, this movie is one that will affect your life, and maybe even inspire you to go on a pilgrimage of your own.
The Reluctant Saint (1962)
Now this is one of those movies that can be labeled as blatantly Catholic. But if you skip it for that reason you are depriving yourself of a wonderful experience. If I had a personal “feel good movie of the year” award to hand out, it would probably have to go to this movie. It’s based on the experiences of St. Joseph of Cupertino, the “flying friar”, who actually lived in the 1600’s. Yes, you can look him up.
In this story, poor Giuseppe (Joseph) can’t seem to do anything right. He’s a super nice guy and as humble as can be, but the world just seems out to get him. His mother is just fed up with how inept he is. She decides that the only way that he’ll amount to anything is if he’s accepted into a Franciscan monastery. Her force of personality is one of the amusing highlights of the film, and any mother will be entertained by her sheer determination to see her son succeed, and her beaming pride when he finally does. The story seems to take on a Forrest Gump flavor, as Giuseppe begins to catch one lucky break after another, and he begins to realize as we do that he is favored from on high. However, the same humility that brings spiritual gifts his way is the same humility that makes him rather… well, reluctant to accept them. And life at the monastery gets complicated rather quickly.
This movie will tug at your heart, make you laugh, and leave you feeling happy. What more could you want?
I welcome comments about these movies and the ones in my part 1 post.
“One thing in this world is different from all other things. It has a personality and a force. It is recognized and (when recognized) most violently loved or hated. It is the Catholic Church. Within that household the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it, is the night.”
Belloc, who was a good friend of G.K. Chesterton, was one of the great Catholic writers of the last century. If you’re interested in Church history I highly recommend his 1920 book “Europe and the Faith” which you can read here for free, or you can get a free mp3 download here (I’ve listened to it twice).
There is a fairly new blog out there that I think is worth checking out if you are a Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox Christian. It is called “I Must Follow If I Can” (in reference to a line from Tolkien). After being raised to be theologically Protestant, “Mustfollow” has been following the evidence of Scripture and history toward the Roman Catholic Church. I followed a similar journey myself in search of truth and ended up “crossing the Tiber”, but the discussions on his blog have been interestingly deep compared to my blog’s topics.
If you’re a Catholic like me and you want to cheer him toward the finish line, or if you are Eastern Orthodox and you want to represent that perspective… or if you are a Fundamentalist/Evangelical/Non-Denom/House-church/Protestant wanting to rescue him away from choosing Catholicism, I’m sure he would appreciate any honest input at this point. So far, it seems that the Protestant position has been weighed and found wanting, but I imagine there’s still time.
So, keep “Mustfollow” in your prayers, and check out his blog!