Saturday, March 1, 2014

Son Of God: Rocks & Life

Knowledge is good. Wisdom is best. Knowledge pertains to things around us, wisdom pertains to things above us. Knowledge is acquired through study; wisdom is acquired through love. Why start out with this? Because there are two types of people who will watch this film: those who are critical are seekers of knowledge, and there is nothing for them in this film; those who feel the Breath Of Life entering, are seeking wisdom, and the Love that gives birth to wisdom. Son Of God presents its audience with the greatest story ever told, not only because it's the story of God Made Flesh, but because it's on-going.  The film does several things well, and one of the devices it employs is the use of stones and rocks, sand and dust.
There appear to be some politics in the film (some would say that leaving out the "Satan" figure who looked like Obama was a political move) but do not be worried about politics. It gives God far greater glory when we trust in Him, and allow Him to work out His Plan. Take the Grace and Love He holds out to you through this film, and all will be well.
When the film opens, we see what turns out to be an island, and a Jewish man, preparing a dinner over an open fire; it's the Apostle John. Beside his cave dwelling is a pile of rocks, one rock even looks like it has a face carved upon it. There are two types of stones, and Son Of God utilizes the "stone" motif in nearly every scene; why? "Living stones" have life within them, they are stones in the sense of being solid and un-moveable, adamant in their purpose of serving God; the "dead stones" (I know that sounds redundant) are those who have no life within them, and they are set upon not having any life within them, like Peter himself when he first encounters Jesus,...

The film--as with any Bible based narrative--faces two unique challenges: first, there is far, far more material than what can possibly be covered; secondly, everyone in the audience knows the story, or, at least, thinks they know the story. Both dimensions of this second problem pose their unique challenges to the film makers (we will discuss some specific examples below). Some critics might accuse the film of being a series of hand-picked scenes from the life of Jesus, and they would be right, it is, and that's the feel you get when you watch the film: on the surface, it does seem to lack coherency. However, they do have a common theme: these are scenes that relate to how people's hearts are hardened like stones, and how people can turn their hearts into natural hearts that love God and are as steadfast in love for God as a stone (hearts that can receive "the Breath of Life). The implied audience, those who know the Bible and the Life of Jesus (and, we can add, those who have seen Mel Gibson's The Passion Of the Christ), don't require every detail to be filled in for them, they all ready know, hence, they are the "implied audience" for the story who need the stories refreshed for their memories. The problem is--and I include myself in this category--we often think we know the story, but we don't, not as the lesson of the story exists in how God expresses Himself (which we can never fully know). The Bible is layer upon layer of mystery, and "mystery" is not a bad word (in spite of what atheists contend) because our own essence as humans, the created Children of God, is mysterious, it reflects the Divine Mystery from whence our souls came, and to Whom are souls shall return. If we enter into the slight variances on the stories Son Of God presents, we shall be wiser and richer. For example, the Nativity of Jesus is briefly shown in the film, but the film spends several moments on a scene that isn't in the Bible at all. Pontius Pilate travels through Israel on his way to Jerusalem; the road is blocked with the broken cart of a poor family; Pilate orders his troops to get the cart off the road. The soldiers turn the cart over, and crush to death the little boy of the poor peasants. Without any remorse, Pilate goes on as the mother wails over her dead son. This is one of the scenes that could be interpreted with contemporary politics in mind, but we are going to ignore that today, and instead, look to the Bible for the meaning: Rachel. In Jeremiah 31:14-16, The Lord begins by telling Jeremiah Priests will be filled with abundance, then the next verse says, "Rachel is weeping for her children," and then the Lord goes says not to mourn and weep, for your works shall be rewarded. Rather odd, isn't it? Except that it isn't, because it's the prophecy about the coming Messiah, as Matthew 2:18 tells us, the Scripture speaks of when Herod had all the newborn males in Israel slaughtered for fear the new king was among them. We see, in Son Of God and the scene of the overturned cart, the same weeping in the mother of the crushed boy. Why is this important to the story? Because this is happening to us, to you and me, everyday in our lives: the Lord permits us to be the victim of injustice, or cruelty, when our own little cart is turned over, and our hopes for the future destroyed (the death of the little boy). This happens to you and me everyday. But, in the audience, having removed ourselves from the immediate pain of our own circumstances by watching it in the life of someone else, we know that Jesus, the Messiah, has come, and the pain the mother and father feel will be surpassed by a far greater joy, Jesus Himself (which is why the passage of Jeremiah happens as it does: God sends a Promise, then He sends desolation, then He sends consolation and blessing). This scene, then, is artistic license, because it keeps to the spirit of the Teaching of Christ and it exists to build you and me up in our faith (please see the next caption for more on this discussion).
When Jesus comes down from the top of the mountain--the mountain being a symbol either for sin that must be conquered or, in the case of Jesus, to demonstrate that all has all ready been conquered (Jesus was without sin, but He was allowed to be tempted, which is what the mountain symbolizes here)--and he sees Simon (to become Peter) in his boat without having caught any fish. Jesus holds a rock in his hand as he calls out to Peter, who doesn't want anything to do with Jesus, so Jesus offers to give Peter a new life, to which Peter responds, "Who says I want one?" and this is the state of being "stoned" which is why Jesus was holding that stone: Jesus knew what Peter would become, but He also knew what Peter was at that moment.

Noah is one of the three trailers attached to Son Of God, and just this weekend (March 1, 2014) the studio has released a statement and a disclaimer about Noah regarding "artistic license" used in the filmWe have to allow artistic license in films, even those pertaining to the Bible, because there are mysteries which must be conveyed that artistry can convey if allotted the time and space required. For example, in The Passion Of the Christ, Gibson was accused of not being historically accurate when a crow/raven picks out the eye of one of the two thieves upon being crucified with Jesus, after that thief had challenged Jesus to freeing Himself and them; that wasn't a matter of historical accuracy, rather, of providing a more detailed commentary upon the scene. The is the bird of death (as opposed to the Holy Spirit, the bird of Life) and the plucking out of his eye is symbolic of the thief's "spiritual eye," and his inability to behold the Messiah even though he knew he Jesus was (as his testified when he tells Jesus to save Himself and save them, also; for more, please see The Passion Of the Christ & the History Of Salvation). A similar device is used in Son Of God for Judas: when Judas first presents himself to the guard of the Temple, his dark hair covers his left eye, which is lost in shadow, symbolizing that Judas has "lost part of his vision," that is, his spiritual vision, and is only seeing the things of this world, not of the next world. Likewise, when Judas has left the Upper Room with Jesus and the Apostles in it during the Passover meal, Judas stops and spits out the bread Jesus had put into his mouth before going onto the Temple to betray Jesus. What Judas spits out of his mouth is not just bread, but the Bread of Life (Catholics will have a difficult time with this because Transubstantiation doesn't take place, but please, don't focus on that), and it's not just the Body of Christ to be offered up for Judas and his sins, but also the Body of Teaching of Christ that Judas rejects in betraying Jesus (for more on the Noah discussion, please see What's Wrong With Noah).
Something important happens before Jesus goes down to see Peter on his boat (pictured below); Jesus breathes. Breathing out not only foreshadows the later resurrection of Lazarus, but also the coming of the Holy Spirit after the Ascension. In this scene, however, it demonstrates that even Peter, first among the Apostles (remember, Peter comes from petra which means "rock"), needs the Breath of Life to animate him to do God's Will, but Peter uses his own free will to follow Jesus. There is another important moment in the film involving Jesus holding a stone: the adulteress.
Peter fishes on a lake with no fish. When Jesus first approaches Jesus, Peter thinks Jesus wants a job, and tries sending Jesus away, but Jesus walks into the water and has to have Peter help him into Peter's boat; why? For at least three reasons. First, it foreshadows later in the film when Jesus will call Peter to walk on water and Peter will sink and Jesus will lift him up; secondly, it illustrates for us the enormous sacrifice Jesus made to come down to earth and take on the mortal frame like us, His creatures, because we know Jesus can walk on water, but He doesn't use His power like that, He allows Himself to be humble in the presence of this illiterate fisherman. Thirdly, it reminds viewers that Jesus can call to us, but we have to invite Him in, He doesn't convert us without us wanting Him to (and that goes for our loved ones who are not converted in spite of all of our prayers). The long labors of Peter in having tried catching fish, but there being "no fish to catch," is an important, but often overlooked feature of the spiritual life that ties-in with the motif of the rocks and sand throughout the film: spiritual desolation. We don't like to think of God sending us out into a desert alone, with no bread and no water (no spiritual nourishment and no consolations) but that is often the Divine Physician's best cure for our sins. Proof of this is just before Jesus meets Peter--Jesus comes out of the Wilderness where He was tempted--as well as when the Apostles are in the boat, rowing to the other side to see Jesus, and the storm comes upon them. These are the "necessary crises" of the spiritual life which God permits so that we can grow out of sin and into faith.
The adulteress brought before Jesus to test Him and His knowledge of the Law is a scene well-known, but the film makers risked slightly changing it so commentary could be made (next image below). To begin with, the woman caught in adultery is often believed to have been Mary Magdalene but Son Of God depicts it as another woman. This incident in the Bible is the only recorded time when Jesus ever wrote anything, in the sand, but that doesn't happen in this scene; instead, Jesus picks up a rock--again--and holds it above His Head; He then tells the group of men that He will give His stone to the one who can tell Jesus that he is without sin himself. Slowly, the men drop their stones and leave. Instead of Jesus asking the woman, "Where are your accusers?" Jesus kisses her on the head, and tells her to "Sin no more." Again, there is the motif of the stone Jesus was holding, and the Breath of Life coming from His Mouth.
If you will, please note how, in this landscape, there is NOTHING but sand, stone, rock; all is barren, where no life can live. After going to the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus tells a little girl that "Not one stone of the Temple shall be left standing," and why? The Law of Moses did not give Life, it only regulated Life, so the stones of the Temple, where the Law is carried out, cannot remain standing when Love as fulfilled all debts. On a different note entirely, why does Judas "kiss" Jesus? Because that is what God did for Adam, and Judas does the opposite for God. God breathed life into man (that's essentially what a kiss is, the giving of your life's breath to another) but man (in the form of Judas) takes Life out of God (betraying Jesus); this is part of the debt which had to be fulfilled in the economy of salvation.
The next scene is the raising of Lazarus. All one can notice, like the image above, is all the rock that is in the scene, including the tomb itself. Again, this is another instance in the film where we know the story of Lazarus but that doesn't mean that we know what it means; why? Because we are Lazarus. We are Lazarus, dead in our sins, our souls as hard as the rock of the tomb, waiting during our spiritual trials for Jesus to come and give us the Breath of Life.
Pontius Pilate is, perhaps, the "hardest" hearted figure in the film, perhaps even more so than Caiaphus, the high priest of the Temple. Pilate is the perfect example of how every decision we make either takes us closer to God, or takes us further away from God. There is no such thing as "stagnant" spirituality: either you are doing God's Will or the Devil's, and in not doing God's Will, you're doing the Devil's. Even though Pilate was right there with Jesus, he couldn't even begin to understand Who he was with, and all of us face similar problems: when we see a homeless person, when there is someone really difficult at work, there is a person in the family causing problems, all are examples that must be treated as God Made Flesh and dwelling among us, because each trial can be used for our greater advancement and holiness.
Something I am surprised the film makers did, because this is more of a Catholic understanding rather than Protestant perspective, is leaving the holes from the Crucifixion in Jesus' Hands. Why do the holes from the nails remain in His Hands? Because of the digging of wells. We have commented upon the incredible dryness and barrenness of the landscape throughout the film, and how our own souls are like that. It is also true that Jesus proved He was the Messiah by doing what the prophets before Him could not do ("He has done all things well," meaning, whatever the prophets did, Jesus did to the full completion; for more on this lengthy subject, please see ). In Genesis 26: 14-33, Isaac digs wells that had been filled by the Philistines (this is an incredibly rich Scriptural text, we are just mentioning) and those three wells Isaac digs foreshadow the two nails in each hand, and the one nail in both feet of Christ, from which the Blood of the Lamb flows at Passover because these are the Divine Wells of Mercy.
The Blood Jesus looses during His Scourging, the going-to-and-from Pilate and Herod, His carrying of the Cross and, of course, during the Crucifixion; each instance was foreshadowed by Isaac's digging of wells and cisterns to water his livestock because Jesus knew He had to water us or we wouldn't survive the trials of earth. Why Isaac? Because Isaac was the one who pre-figured God the Father sacrificing His Only Son for humanity when Abraham obediently offered to sacrifice Isaac, but also because Isaac means "he who laughs" or "he will laugh," so after Christ's Sacrifice, He will be rewarded with Joy and the Promises of His Father. This is important for us to remember, as we suffer through out own trials, they God always faithfully pays the wages for our labors, and those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing, like Jesus.
As always, there is much more one can decode and study, but religious films are meant to inspire, and each of us, depending upon where we are in our spiritual lives, will take more or less, but always what we need, at the time we need it. Jesus tells us that we are to love one another as we love ourselves, because--in those acts where we do as He tells us--we turn our hearts from being made of stone, into hearts that are as steadfast as stone in service and love to God. The films seeks to impart wisdom to the viewer, to nourish and sustain us on our long journey, and whenever the Mercy of God is offered, we are wise to take it.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner