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 published: 2004-04-08

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep

The movie "The passion of the Christ" by Mel Gibson, and the passion of Jesus of Nazareth

Cruz en la Iglesia de Peregrinos, Schoenstatt

Cross in the Pilgrims' Church, Schönstatt

Kreuz in der Pilgerkirche, Schönstatt

Foto: POS Brehm © 2004

ROME, Fr. Alberto Eronti. Almost every day the newspapers bring some news on the film "The passion of the Christ". In this moment, in the United States, the film is shown in more than 4,000 cinemas. In Damascus (Syria), the seventy cinemas in which it is shown, considering the demand, have had to add a presentation to the usual ones. From tomorrow, Maundy Thursday, it will be possible to see the work in 700 cinemas all over Italy. The Catholic Magazine "Avvenire" brings a guide to understand what is projected on the screen: the last 12 hours of Jesus' public life. I have not seen the movie, I do not yet know if I will go to watch it, feeling a kind of saturation with the theme, feeling that it has been said so much that there are no surprises to expect - or, yet?

A few days ago I received as a gift a book from Cardinal Carlo M. Martíni:" The absurdity of Auschwitz and the mystery of the cross ". The two concentration camps of that zone, says the Cardinal, are a manifestation of the mystery and of the power of the evil. A power that freed itself brutally on millions of innocent persons. What I read in the guide of the "Avvenire" is that Mel Gibson wanted to show what means the power of the evil, understood as hate, fury, rancor, obstinacy. The journalist affirms that this was sure achieved. The use of the so called special effects, of the "rallenty" and of the flash back, help to live and to feel the suffering that the Son of God took upon himself. Possibly the external reality of that event is not far from what the movie shows.

A voluntary surrender of oneself

Martíni affirms that in Auschwitz the suffering of the inmates was immense, as a descent to the hell of the evil. Remembering Jesus' passion, he says that at least two persons were alike Jesus and lived through their very own passion according to the Master of Nazareth: Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein. In what does the difference root between Jesus' passion and the film? What made different the deaths of Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein, to that of the rest of the deportees? I believe that it is this mystery that the movie - qualified of "excellent" - could hardly show. It is a question of the offering of oneself. The radical difference of the death of Jesus Christ, of Maximilian, of Edith, is to be seen in the fact that it was a voluntary surrender of themselves. Voluntary surrender to redeem. To redeem the world, to redeem a prisoner, to redeem Germany …

I don't know whether this aspect appears with clarity in the film. Neither in any of the articles that I have read, nor in the comments that I have heard this unique and essential reality appears. The gift of himself is the way that Jesus chose consciously. I quote Martíni: It is the paradoxical aspect shown in this text: the good shepherd is not simply the one that leads to the grasslands, that defends, that guides, that gathers and unites (see: Ez.34, 11ff), but the one that offers his life. The topic appears four times (see: John10, 1-18). "A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep". "And I will lay down my life for the sheep". "This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again". "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again".

It is clear that "grazing", as understood habitually in the Biblical metaphor - to be a king, guide, and good teacher, person in charge - remains overcome, exceeded, with the topic of the giving of the life. The mystery of the cross!

The mystery of the cross that redeems to the world

Between the image of the shepherd of the Old Testament and the one that Jesus contributes in the Gospel according to John, we find an abysmal distance. "It is a question of a paradoxical metaphor: his surrender is sacrificial, and in it, the figure of the shepherd gets confused with that of the immolated lamb that fulfills a free act, for pure love, not for unavoidable need, as for example the struggle of the shepherd with the wolf". Once again we are situated in the heart of an indescribable mystery. In fact, Jesus offers the life as sacrificial victim, allowing that the evil of the world - of each one, of the group, and the ideological evil - falls down, frees itself against him. He surrenders defenselessly to the vortex of evil, and assumes it. This way he conquers the evil by force of good, and his victory is not, therefore, an annihilation of the wicked ones (cf. 2 Tes.2,8), end of the nastiness, as they all were waiting for and as we instinctively wait. It is not a vindictive justice, but acceptance of the consequences of the evil on oneself, to exterminate it in the fire of his love and his pardon."

It is the mystery of the cross that saves the world! In the heart of the Holy Week, the holiest of all, which we celebrate is the application of us of Jesus' words for each: " No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn.15, 13). He gave his life for me, for each one, so we could "annihilate" in us the evil and be free.

"Today I stood with you by the cross"

Which is the role of Mary at Golgotha? Obviously, the film gives a great and good contribution in this sense, but will the spectators reach to the full understanding of the Mother and Helpmate? Edith Stein writes with words that Father Kentenich also used to say: "Today I stood with you by the cross and felt more clearly than ever that it was here where you became the Mother of all of us. How does a mother try hard to carry out the last wish of her son! You are the Handmaid of the Lord, and the Being and the Life of the Son of God denounce - because they are yours - your being and your life. With him you gave birth to your children in your heart, and with the blood of your bitter pains you have bought new life to every child of your heart."

I wish vividly that "The passion", if we are going to see it, helped us the as far as only possible to contemplate the passion of Jesus of Nazareth. But what is unavoidable is that we live through the itinerary: Last Supper - Passion- Death -Resurrection, with and like Mary, so that the surrender of herself to the will of her Son opens our heart, to receive and to guard the Love that wells from the open side, and the Life that shines in the morning of the first Sunday of the new creation.

With the desire of a blessed and holy Easter 2004

Fr Alberto E. Eronti

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