There is a popular song sung in churches today talking about Jesus dying on the cross that says: “Crucified… You took the fall and thought of me above all.” I would like to correct this statement; when Jesus was dying on the cross I’m pretty sure He was actually thinking: “Ow, ow, ow.” There is a chance He was also thinking: “Ow, crucifixion sucks! Ow, ow.” To say Jesus, while dying on the cross, was thinking of me is narcissistic with a shroud of romanticism: “He did that for me; isn’t that cute?” It’s like the crazy girlfriend: (girlfriend) “You need to think about me all the time: work, sleeping, during your colonoscopy (I’m not sure why this last one was the example that came to mind). It’s all about me.” But for some reason Christians like to romanticize the Bible making it sound cute and cuddly, or we make it sound really boring: (pastor) “Today we will read the Bible in order to inspire our midmorning nap.” The Bible, however, isn’t a “nice” book. The Bible is a lot like Shakespeare; it’s often taken for granted and glossed over as quickly as possible to get the obligation of reading it out of the way. The Bible, however, has some great stories that can be described in a lot of ways… a lot of ways except nice. For instance, in one story: “David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins,” (1 Sam 18:27a www.biblegateway.com) which was a payment for the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage. This is far from cute and cuddly… hopefully you can see that this is not cute and cuddly.
One of the best stories in the Bible is the Easter story of Jesus dying on the cross and rising again. As you know, I choose to believe the story of Jesus and that He’s the Son of God; it gives me hope and purpose. If, however, you don’t agree that’s your choice, but you can still enjoy these stories from a literary point of view.
Last summer I saw Chris Angel perform live in Las Vegas. It was a good show. It helped that he followed the necessary performer formula of starting with something to catch attention and then build it up to the big finale. Jesus had this concept mastered. To get attention, He started with turning dirty water into top quality wine. That would get people’s attention. I think it’s fair to say that’s one trick that would make Chris Angel’s show even more popular: “We saw Chris Angel and he gave us free booze!” Jesus then builds up his performance with things like feeding five thousand men and their families with five small loaves of bread and two small fish. He then walks on water during a storm and eventually He moves onto raising his friend, Lazarus, from the dead after he had been buried in a tomb for four days. How is Jesus supposed to top that trick? He raised a guy from the dead! Fortunately, Jesus then moves onto His big finale. He one ups this by dying Himself and rising from the dead. And this wasn’t just a simple: “Oh no, I’m dead, and here I am again.” Jesus’ body was shredded beyond medical help before dying, and three days later He leaves His tomb all cleaned up and healed minus the markings of His pierced hands and hole in his side to prove it happened, and it wasn’t just an illusion. Ultimately, if this story is made up it’s really impressive. If, however, this story is true, Jesus is either the most amazing magician in the world (maybe he had a twin brother like in the movie, The Prestige), or He was who He said He was. All are a little scary to think about.
One of my favourite things about Jesus’ big finale is He’s metaphorically giving the finger to religion. The people responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion were from the Jewish counsel comprised of the “elite”, but they had corrupted the system. In the crucifixion Jesus is essentially saying: “Screw your rules, because they lead to judgement and hypocrisy. I offer something better than rules. I offer love… Oh, and here’s my way of saying you’re not the boss of me: I’m going to let you kill me.” Arguably this is the worst fighting tactic you can have: “Kill me. I dare you. Here, let me lay down beside this sword… you will so regret killing me.” Throughout the Gospel accounts of Jesus, He keeps doing things to tick off these religious leaders: (Jesus) “What? You don’t want me to do that… guess I will.” The religious leaders thought the crucifixion was the ultimate trap for Jesus: He would either die thereby proving He’s not the Son of God as He claimed or He would come off the cross like a cosmic superhero. As always, Jesus was a step ahead. The religious leaders thought they had Jesus trapped, but he was like: “Here’s a third option… I’m not sure if I like it, but at least I show that I’m in control and not you.” Thus, Jesus is on the cross saying: “The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!” That’s not a direct Bible quote; that’s Frank Sinatra, but it fits well here.
After being dead for three days, which is a great way to build tension, Jesus rises from the dead and starts to visit people. If someone is kidnapped and later released this leads to a big celebration. If someone dies and comes back to life… there’d be a whole lot of celebrating. Watching Chris Angel you can’t help but say “No way; no way. Are you kidding me?” because he really is a mind freak, but with this stunt by Jesus, He takes it to a whole new level. It was so mind blowing that it’s left people talking about it for the next two thousand years. That in itself is impressive.
Whether you believe the accounts of Jesus are true or not, it is a fascinating story and utilizes a skill in writing that Hollywood writers typically forget: a good plot (so many movies leave me thinking: “That was entertaining, but it could’ve been better.”)
This Easter, may you discover the beauty in the writing of the Bible and may Hollywood learn to suck less… no offence Hollywood.