By Dr. Dencio Acop
It was difficult to watch again The Passion of the Christ. It always was. But it was even more difficult to realize that the world has not changed much since. Or that it has not changed at all. In the things that really mattered. As I watched the movie, I cannot help recognizing how much it is echoed in present-day reality as if 2,000 years ago was today. Who are we in the story of the Lenten journey? Really? Are we the apostles? Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin? Pilate? Herod? The Tribune or the Roman soldiers? Jesus’ followers? The mob?
The apostles got to know Jesus up close for three years. They witnessed his many miracles in person. They listened to his parables and great teachings. They ate and drank with him. They travelled long distances and days with him. They became so close and intimate with the Lord that they really came to love him deeply. After Jesus raised Lazarus back to life from death after four days, they became aware of everlasting life. Jesus even showed Peter, James, and John a glimpse of heaven in his transfiguration at Tabor forty days before his passion. The apostles practically knew that their Lord and Master would suffer and die but rise up again after three days. Because Jesus had told them so. Yet Peter denied Jesus thrice and the apostles ran away and hid. Except John. Even the truth was not enough to extinguish the fear of the apostles. Only the descent of the holy spirit could eliminate their fear.
When we think of our political leaders today and some religious leaders, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin no longer seem 2,000 plus years dead. They are very much alive right in all our midst today. With cunning and deceit, they strike in darkness, rush hurried proceedings before dawn, and condemn the innocent while rewarding the guilty. They revel in self-righteous idolatry, operate worse than the criminals they condemn, and still manage to pray. Even the truth is not enough to extinguish the pride of the arrogant. Perhaps only their descent into the fires of hell would. Someday.
As was the case of Pilate soon after the passion, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. Who was made to commit suicide by the emperor Caligula and thrown into the Tiber where demons surrounded his corpse. Blinded by ambition and corruption, Pilate could not make the great radical leap from decadence to doing the right thing even if his own wife pleaded with him.
Herod reminds us of indifferent, worldly leaders who with great power in their hands have not the slightest clue what to do with all that power. In the end, him and his kind become just all about the maximization of everything that is material and worldly: drunken power, ill-gotten wealth, immoral pleasure, and idolatrous honor. The irreconcilable gap in that scene between the incarnate son of God treated like a common criminal and the perverse Herod acting like a god was unmistakably clear. Like the gap between the rich man and Lazarus. Or the poor widow and the self-righteous pharisee.
Or are we the Tribune? The doubting commander of Roman soldiers whose innermost instincts and core values were not enough to stop the madness of Pilate. For it would mean losing our privileged place in society and be counted among the receivers of suffering and pain instead.
Are we the sadistic Roman soldiers who got off by inflicting the most harm on hapless captives including Jesus? I have known such men during my time in uniform too. They are common. Mindless and victims themselves, such men are lost. Without moral leaders putting them in their place, these little but armed men will make themselves big by violating whomever they can.
The followers of Jesus? They were there too. But like the disciples, fear overpowered them. Only the descent of the holy spirit later could make them brave. And, like the disciples, brave they soon became following the resurrection and apparitions of Jesus. But not until. The followers are all converts. Who, soon after they are baptized, become fearless martyrs for Christ.
Finally, the mob. They were there spitting at and mocking Jesus. Condemning him to death. They are here now, today. Spitting at and mocking the truth. Condemning the innocent to death. While rewarding and selecting the guilty to become their leaders. A priest once said that when we choose just our own way, we find it is a way that leads to death. The way of the cross, while laden with earthly suffering, is God’s way that leads to everlasting life. Happy are all who take it.