Friday, June 03, 2005

Guilt and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

I've now finished Jose Saramago's Gospel According to Jesus Christ (GAJC), and with other peices have triggered some thinking on guilt, penance, salvation and the slaughter of innocents. Please forgive the gaps, but write a comment and I'll respond.

First off is the striking parallelism not only between Passover and Easter (which I think Christians don't consider nearly enough), but really of Christmas and Passover, especially the slaughter of innocent children and the saving intervention of angels. GAJC begins with a strong connection between the slaughter of first borns in Egypt with that in Bethelehem and then ask about the lingering guilt.

In GAJC Joseph is working temporarily on construction of the temple in Jerusalem and overhears Herod's troops discuss the coming slaughter in Bethlehem, prompting him to run back to save Mary and Jesus. On route, he passes other children in Bethlehem, but does not warn their parents of the coming slaughter. The guilt of not warning the other parents stay with him as a nightmare until his own "innocent" death at the hands of Romans, but the nightmare is passed on to Jesus.

Saramago plays with the idea that the sins of our fathers are also the sins of our sons with compounding effect. In its way this becomes a form of original sin. In this tale, not only does Jesus take the burden of Joseph's guilt, but also comes to understand the death toll in his name yet to come, martyrs, crusades and inquisitions. We are preached that Jesus was without sin. But what if Jesus, knowing God's plan, commits to it knowing of the all the death and misery it (the creation of Christianity) will cause, is Jesus still without guilt?

Stephen Adly Guirgus' play, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, throws into Christ's culpability, the damnation of Judas Iscariot. And then there are many ruminations of the necessity of the devil to enhance the goodness of God in both. It's here that Judeo-Christian-Islamic notions of good and evil really fail for me.

One has to choose God over the forces of evil, which really seems to be the forces of our selfishness. But if there were no evil, selfishness, or sin then would there still be God?

I wanted to toss in some obeservations on Star Wars and Passion of the Christ, but ultimately they don't add any value, and water themselves down in reveling in the fall and torture of their leads and avoid what meaning of the gospel, or the meaning of Anikin's salvation really mean. However, I've renewed interest in reading The Last Temptation of Christ, maybe I'll just watch the film.

Lastly, I liked in GAJC how John the Baptist is treated not as an older cousin, but as another eccentric prophetic figure. My friend Jason, who is Jewish, mentioned his dream of having a biblical film that would give equal time to all the messianic figures of the day. In fact GAJC does much to put the gospel in historical context, complete with gender, economics and zealotry that I think most Christians don't give proper heed to. By doing so, I think it becomes clear how we can strip the major religions of their anachronistic trappings, especially gender trappings.


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