Mel Gibson’s controversial movie The Passion of the Christ was in its first week of release and was receiving much praise along with a fair amount of condemnation. The graphic depiction of the scourging of Christ drew particular criticism for its severity. Mary, Mitch, and I went to the movie that first weekend of its release. The kids, based on the word-of-mouth about the scourging scene, had to stay home despite their protestations.
The depth of my knowledge of the scourging of Christ was as shallow as a saucer of milk. The only depiction I could remember was an off camera scene in King of Kings or some equally old movie about Jesus. I was in no way prepared for the horror that was to come.
The theater was nearly sold out for the Sunday evening showing we attended. Our seats were in the front third of the theater where the screen loomed large in front of us. The audience was respectfully quiet through the first act of the film. The quiet became almost unnatural as the scourging scene began.
The sight of the Roman guards testing their tools of torture suddenly drove home for me what was about to take place. I sank down deep into my seat just before the beatings began. The first few lashes were enough to make me cover my eyes at the brutality. Shame soon kicked in. Shame that this character… this man… this savior… was taking this punishment to wash away my sins and I couldn’t bear witness to it. I removed my hands from my eyes.
I sank deeper into my seat and curled up into a fetal position as the scourging continued. Muffled sobs could be heard throughout the theater. After several minutes of this savagery, Jesus was finally driven to His knees. The Roman guards laughed and turned away from Him, thinking their job was done. Jesus, His body bloodied and ravaged to pieces, got back to His feet for more.
I wanted to cry out to Him to stay down. Instead, I sank even deeper into my seat and muttered without thinking, “Jesus Christ.” It was just loud enough for those in my vicinity to hear it. Mitch was one of those people. His muted chuckle at my unintentional irony let me know he heard what I had said.
The rest of that scene and the remainder of the film was emotionally draining for me, more so than anything I have seen before or since. The rest of the audience obviously felt the same way as we all shuffled out of the theater in a state of shell shock.
Two days later, alone and at home with a day off, the movie and the impact it had on me was at the forefront of my thoughts. Sitting at my computer in a spare bedroom I became overwhelmed by the emotions brought on by the movie. I fought back against the tears at the thought that Jesus had gone through that horrible punishment and died on the cross to save mankind… to save my family and friends… to save me. The tears were now flowing freely. Once again I was filled with shame. The years of struggling with my faith came crashing down upon me.
How dare you, I thought of myself. I had long questioned the divinity of the man, but to question the absolute LOVE He had for all of us, especially if he was just a man, was beyond the pale. My shame turned into despair.
And then it happened.
A warm glow sparked in my heart. The warm glow slowly radiated outward like a wave from my heart and extended throughout my body. The best way I could find to describe it was like an adrenaline rush, except this glow was in no rush. The experience lasted several seconds, ending when it reached my upper and lower digits simultaneously. I was left sitting there feeling physically drained and yet energized at the same time. The despair was gone and was replaced by a feeling of absolute peace. My tears of shame were replaced by tears of joy.
And then I knew and finally understood.
For years I feared that Jesus had rejected the young boy’s prayer of invitation into his heart.
It turned out that He had been residing there all along.