Lesson Two: Christ confronts evil in The Passion of The Christ
The passion of Christ - both the historical event and Mel Gibson´s film - begins with the Agony in the Garden. In the film, the devil is watching Christ as he prays, agonizing over the indescribable suffering he is about to undergo to redeem humanity. From beneath the devil´s foot emerges a snake that slithers over to Christ, who is shedding tears and sweating blood. He seems not to take note of the serpent until it is directly beneath him; he then stands and crushes the serpent´s head under his foot.
The crushing of the serpent´s head is but one way Christ conquers evil. For a better understanding of this mystery and the hope it gives us, let´s take a look at some of the manifestations of evil in The Passion of the Christ and what the characters´ interaction with evil shows us about temptation, sin, death, and salvation.
The snake as a symbol tells much about temptation and evil. It is low, sneaky, and deadly, lurking in shadows until it is time to strike. It does not roar, but hisses; temptation - especially a first temptation to violate one´s innocence - is not a loud cry in the open but a whisper in the shadows. If we let it, it can wrap around us, making escape all but impossible, strangling us and cutting off feeling. To be the captive of the tempter is to dull one´s senses, particularly the moral sense, one´s conscience.
So how does Christ deal with the temptor? He crushes it underfoot. He allows it to come just close enough so he can kill it. Throughout the ages, the Church´s symbolic language has assured us that Christ is not alone in this victory: his Blessed Mother in painting and sculpture is almost always portrayed with a serpent underfoot. The sinless Virgin Mary is party to her Son´s conquest over temptation and death.
These symbols are fruit for prayerful meditation: What temptations slither in our lives? Do we try to resist temptation on our own? Or do we invite Christ into our lives, asking Him for courage and resolve, with confidence in his victory over evil?
Maintaining Hope Amidst Suffering
Another striking manifestation of evil comes as Judas Iscariot faces what he has done. He betrays Christ with a kiss but soon suffers deep regret. He tries to give back the thirty pieces of silver and have Jesus freed, but it is too late; he cannot change the course of destruction that he has set in motion. Overwhelmed by his sin and lacking faith and hope in the mercy of God, Judas decides the only way to free himself is by suicide.
From one point of view, Jesus and Judas end up the same way: hanging dead on an old tree. But Judas died at his own hand because he had no hope. He had betrayed his Lord and left himself with nothing but anguish, regret, and despair. The despair is key, because it signifies the total absence of hope.
Christ, on the other hand, suffers an even worse death than Judas except for this: he never loses hope. He is hope. He, God, has decided to accept a brutal death as a way to change forever the meaning of suffering and even death. By offering His suffering as payment for our sins, Christ turns suffering into a means of salvation. By rising from the dead Christ defeats the most radical of all evil — death itself. This radical transformation renders the devil´s work meaninglessness if we will but "believe, take up the cross and follow" Christ by uniting our suffering with the suffering of Christ.
In our lives, let us resolve to unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ, for the redemption of our own sins and the sins of the world. And during those times when it appears there is no hope, we can remember to place our hope, our confidence in Christ’s resurrection and His victory over evil.
Confronting Cruelty with Forgiveness
Another manifestation of evil in The Passion is the laughing cruelty of Christ’s torturers. In the face of evil imposed by others, Christ calls on us to " forgive them, they know not what they are doing" (Luke 23:24). Christ is truly the king of mercy. The Passion teaches us that if Christ can forgive others whom have inflicted horrible pain on him, can’t we forgive those that hurt us?
Confronting Cruelty with Humility
The mob calling for Christ’s death is another manifestation of evil. Jesus had all of the power of heaven and earth to stop the madness of the crowd, yet humbly chose to follow the Father’s will. His silence, his resolve to bear the cross, is the ultimate act of humility: God-made-man choosing to suffer the most despicable of deaths.
How often in our lives do we become “part of the mob” out of peer pressure and the desire to be accepted by a group, by saying or doing hurtful things to others? And when we are the victims of hurtful comments and actions, do we imitate Christ by “forgiving those whom have trespassed against us” and by approaching difficult situations with humility?
Evil will always exist in our fallen world. Christ is the model for how we as Christians should confront evil with hope in the resurrection, forgiveness towards others that hurt us, and humility in obeying God’s will.
The purpose of this unit is to:
- Encourage participants to follow Christ’s example in confronting evil with hope in the resurrection, forgiveness and humility.
- Contemplate what temptations we face in our lives.
- Encourage participants to unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ, for the redemption of our own sins and the sins of the world.
Faith - the theological virtue by which we believe in God all that He has revealed to us, and that the Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself.
Hope - the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Humility - the moral virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness. Humility leads us to an orderly love of self-based on a true appreciation of our position with respect to God and neighbors.
Christ, as we face temptation and evil in our own lives, may our faith and hope in the resurrection lead us to resist temptation and evil as You did.
Mel Gibson said in an EWTN interview: “That´s how the devil is, to me….It´s frightening that it can be deception itself -- that it takes the form of something harmless, but there is a ravenous beast underneath.”
Discuss the status of our culture today:
- What temptations does our culture promote, which may at first appear harmless, but in reality cause great damage? Consider TV shows, movies, music, magazines, internet usage, our dress, and our activities.
- What are the virtues that we can focus on to resist some of these temptations?
- Have there been times in our lives where we were part of a “mob psychology” in just going along with the crowd, not standing up for what we know is right?
What was the root cause of our going along with the crowd? Fear? Wanting to be accepted? Lack of moral courage to be counter cultural?
Was it out of laziness?
- What situations in my life am I most vulnerable to this type of temptation? Standing up for a person? Standing up for a belief? Standing up to defend my faith? What virtues can I work on to rid myself of this weakness?
- Christ deals with the temptor by crushing it underfoot. What temptations slither near my foot? Do I crush them or let them take control? At these times of temptation, is my immediate response one of asking for God’s help and looking to Christ my inspiration and hope in resisting the temptation?
- When I fall to temptation, am I truly sorry for my sin and do I humbly seek God’s mercy?
- Make a nightly examination of conscience considering each day what specific temptations you faced, and whether you were successful in resisting them.
- Make a commitment to identify someone who has harmed you in some way and forgive them, both in your heart and through a personal approach.
- The next time we face a difficult situation, pray for the virtue of hope, contemplating the reality that by uniting our suffering with Christ, our suffering has redemptive value.
- Resolve to go to confession on a more regular basis.
Lesson 3: Obedience to the Father in The Passion of the Christ