Today in my Jesus class we began watching Martin Scorsese’s (in)famous film, The Last Temptation of Christ. We are asking our students to go through several intellectual exercises as they watch these films. First, we want them to ask, “If this film were the only source of my knowledge about Jesus, what would I know about him?” In other words, we want them to do their best to divorce themselves from what they already know (or think they know) and look at Jesus through fresh eyes. Second, we are trying to get them to think about various presentations of Jesus in light of the Chalcedonian definition. We want them to note where certain portraits of Jesus lean toward either the human or divine. Even though we are only a third of the way through the film, I can already tell by the looks on students’ faces that they are receiving Scorsese’s Jesus with greater reluctance than Gibson’s Jesus.
The portrait in Last Temptation is one of my favorites because, for all of its idiosyncrasies, its presentation of Jesus is so raw and unrestrained. The film can be very very slow (especially at the beginning) but the way it pictures Jesus coming to terms with his call (almost like a headache he can’t shake) is so compelling. It also easy to get a feel for how certain crowds could have simultaneously found him both crazy and compelling enough to follow. Our readings of the Gospels–like our understandings of Jesus–can be very docetic at times. This film prevents us from lapsing into such myopia.
I look forward to participating in (and sharing here) the discussion that arises from watching the film. For now, enjoy this clip: