Last November Insight for Living sent me to Santa Monica, California, to attend a private screening of Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ. Seeing the film, I responded the same way almost everyone else has—dropped jaw, numb mind, changed life.
Afterward, the screen darkened and the lights came back on, revealing a dozen stunned souls seated around a boardroom table. The tissue box was empty and sniffles lingered. It had been a gruesome crucifixion.
After a much-needed silence the door opened—and an unexpected visitor appeared wearing jeans and an untucked canvas shirt. It was Mel Gibson. He entered the room, slumped into a leather chair across from me, and looked at us. Then in the tone of a seventh-grader asking his parents' opinions of his first home movie he asked a question. "So whaddya think?"
The responses were enthusiastic.
He looked at me and I answered. "About a third of the way through I wanted it to stop. I couldn't take it anymore. It was too powerful."
Someone asked him, "What prompted you to tell the story?"
"Couple years back," he said, "I was looking out a window, wondering why I shouldn't jump. Life had no meaning. It was boring. Purposeless. That's when I turned to Him. That's when my relationship with Christ really starting growing." He talked as he acts—frenetic, hands running through his hair, eyes skittish. "I was a bad guy … a really horrible guy. My sins were the first to nail Him to the cross. I wanted to tell His story."
A controversy surrounding the film is the claim that it promotes anti-Semitism. But from the beginning of the film it's clear that nobody is taking Jesus' life except Jesus Himself. Gibson had seen to that. These attacks confirm to him that he's waging a spiritual battle. A New York editor who defended using public funds to support Andres Serrano's photograph of a crucifix immersed in his own urine ("Piss Christ") has now written about why The Passion of the Christ should be censored. Gibson spoke through gritted teeth. "That's the kind of people we're up against."
Ironically many like this editor who are some of the most zealous advocates of tolerance, cannot tolerate this film. Having seen the movie, I see that their problem lies not with a Gentile named Mel, but with some Jews named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. "I just wanted to tell the truth," Gibson said, "the truth from the inspired Word of God."
"Did making the movie change you?" I wanted to know.
He looked beyond the window. "Yes. Yes, it did."
We left it at that.
After spending about an hour with us, he stood. When I went to shake his hand, I asked one more question. I had to know the answer. "What does the crucifixion mean to you?"
It seemed to catch him off guard. "What do you mean?"
"Many people read the Gospels or will see this film and say that Jesus was just a good man who died a tragic death, or they'll think this was just an example of God's love. What does it mean to you?"
"It's pretty simple to me. Jesus was God in human flesh—incarnate, right? He was born from the Virgin Mary, lived on this earth, and died for your sins and mine. He paid the penalty for our sins."
"If that's what it means, then it means something."
"Yeah. Yeah it does."
I thanked him for the invitation.
"No problem," he said. "Hey, please pray for us."
As I watched him leave I thought, Thanks. Thanks for not jumping.
Brian Goins (ThM, 2000) is director of creative ministries at Insight for Living in Plano, TX .