28 March 2004 | livewire-6
Less passion, more compassion
Forget Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ". "Jesus", the television mini-series first aired in 1999, and reprised (the second half only) in March 2004, offers a more comprehensive view of Jesus' ministry, mission, death and resurrection. It provides a better understanding of the reason for His death -- not so much the result of political infighting between Romans and Jews, as Jesus' acceptance of His Father's will that humanity should be redeemed by one deed, one life of perfect obedience and love.
Sure, there are some historical improbabilities in the mini-series. For one thing, Pilate (Gary Oldman) and Herod are shown as being on good terms with each other. The Gospels tell us they did not become friends until the day Jesus died. The calling of the apostles looks amusingly as if Jesus is choosing up sides for a game of scrub, followed by a group hug.
But the crucifixion scene is accurate in its detail, yet not as excruciating (I use the term deliberately because it is derived from the Latin noun "crux" or cross) as Gibson's gorefest.
There are also some other very nice touches. Chief among them is Jesus' temptation by Satan, played by Jeroen Krabbe, attired as a 21st-century corporate executive. Satan tries to convince Jesus (Jeremy Sisto) that His sacrifice will be in vain because humanity will use religion to perpetrate acts of hatred such as the Crusades. He suggests that, with a wave of His hand, Jesus can make humans and life on earth perfect. But that would mean denying people freedom of choice. Jesus resists the temptation, believing in the power of love freely chosen.
Debra Messing ("Will and Grace") turns in a very creditable performance as Mary Magdalene. So does Jacqueline Bisset as Mary, the mother of Jesus. The raising of Lazarus is a very powerful scene, and Jesus' own resurrection goes beyond the empty tomb to its effect on the apostles -- something Gibson fails to show.
"Jesus", the TV miniseries, succeeds where Gibson's movie fails -- by showing less passion, and more compassion.