Here are a few reflections that I have on the film Son of God having seen the movie at the theater this week. This is not a review of any sort, we know the story and how it ends after all, and obviously if we are Christians it is a movie that we should see, if more than anything so that Hollywood makes more movies about faith and the Bible, but I thought that I would write just a few of the themes that struck me as I watched the film, such as God, love, joy, prayer, forgiveness, Mass, and Gospel.
The first thing that I noticed about the movie is that they are following the Gospel of John for the account of the life of Jesus. One thing that this does is to give the story a focus that other movies that have tried to cover all the gospels have not had. But more importantly it uses a narration of the Prologue from the first chapter of John as the introduction to the story as a great panorama of the stories of the Old Testament that are flashing by us on the screen (creation, Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David, etc.). The point is to show us that the story of Jesus does not begin with his birth in Bethlehem, or with the creation story of Adam of Eve, but that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” because he always was, always is, and always will be, not just the Son of God, but God himself. Jesus is not simply a person who lived at a time in history, a great teacher of philosophy, a prophet who spoke great truths, or even a miracle worker. This movie reminds us that Jesus is in fact God!
The first thing that I notice about Jesus in this movie is that they portray Jesus very differently than how many movies portray Jesus. They show Jesus as happy, with an infectious smile and friendly waves to the crowds. He has a serious message certainly, but it is not delivered sadly or ominously, but in a way that is loving and caring. You can see why Jesus would have been so popular and attractive to the people, because Jesus is filled with love and joy. Sure there is the serious resolve and bitter pain of the Passion of course, but even those are shown with the greater idea that the Passion was part of the great love that Christ has for us and that leads to our ultimate joy. Jesus reminds us, as Pope Francis has done with his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), that the message of the Gospel is one of love and joy. The portrayal of Jesus reminds us that we must be people of love and joy.
Then there is the Last Supper in which Jesus is celebrating the Passover with his disciples. This is always a moving scene because it is the final meal that Jesus shares with his disciples. But what struck me about the scene is that in the movie the action does not stay focused on the Upper Room. Instead the movie switches from the Upper Room, to the Temple, and to Pontius Pilate’s home. What is everyone doing at all three places? They are praying! Jesus (with the disciples) prays to the Heavenly Father, the Jewish leaders pray to God (whom they feel that Jesus has blasphemed), and Pontius Pilate is praying with his wife to the pagan gods. How strange it is for us to witness so much prayer going on! If only God was so busy receiving prayers today! The collage of all of these prayers struck me as so wonderful (even if Pontius Pilate was not praying to the Heavenly Father) because prayer was important to them all. If only we could say the same thing in today’s secular world. This scenes reminds us that we must pray.
Then there is the scene where Peter returns to the disciples after having denying Jesus three times and running off to save himself. When asked why he had run off and abandoned Jesus, Peter becomes downcast and simply says, “I failed Him.” How true this is for each one of us. How often we fail Jesus by the choices we make, the things we do, the things we say, and even the things we think. We fail him. Our faith fails him. But what we must remember is that Jesus forgives us each and every time that we turn back to Him, no matter how many times we fail. We just simply must realize that we have failed him and turn back to him in forgiveness and turn to Him and say, “I have failed you.” Jesus is full of love, mercy, and forgiveness, especially when we have failed Him. This scene reminds us that we must never be afraid to turn to Jesus.
Next, there is the resurrection scene where Mary Magdalene and the disciples return after discovering that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead. They are obviously filled with joy at this happy and momentous occasion, but then Peter has a moment of inspiration and asks for some bread and wine to be brought. He then speaks the same words that Christ spoke at the Last Supper. They celebrate Mass together just as Jesus did at the Last Supper. The movie ties the Mass immediately to Christ so that we get the idea that the Mass is not a simple ritual that developed over a number of years by a hierarchical religion, but is in fact a divine meal instituted by Christ that has been celebrated in perpetuity since the Last Supper. This scene reminds us of the sanctity and importance of the Mass, it is not a simple religious service, but a divine event that connects us in a special way with God.
Finally, the movie concludes, not as the Gospel of John concludes with Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus (one of the few downfalls of the movie, because it is an especially powerful encounter that should have been included if following the story from John’s perspective), but with the disciples running off with great excitement to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth (borrowing from the Gospel of Matthew). The sense of mission is important certainly, but the reason why it works especially well (despite my wish for the inclusion of the road to Emmaus story) is because it shows how happy and excited the disciples are to go forth with the message of the Gospel. If we truly believe the Gospel and what it says to us about our future as children of God, then we certainly should be just as happy as the disciples, unable to contain our joy or our excitement for sharing the Gospel with others. We would not only know the words of the Gospel, but we would make them a part of our lives. We would not only know about Jesus contained in the scriptures, but we would have a personal relationship with Christ. This scene reminds us that the Gospel must be a part of who we are.
Son of God is not just a story about a man named Jesus. It is a story about God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and because of that everything is changed forever.