Easter, Judas, and Martin Scorsese

I am intrigued that each Easter and Christmas our secular, cultural machine trots out magazines, movies, and other culturally relevant ways to ask that one, simple, and burning question: did it happen? Is Christmas or Easter real? The national magazines, from Time to Newsweek to name a couple, sell their wares by posing provoking questions on their covers about whether or not a kid could be born from a virgin, and then those same magazines shift to asking if a person – if a body – can really leave this world for the next, and disappear in the process. Bookstores and cable are replete with articles or movies about these sensational questions. I get that their motivation is to sell magazines and cable packages, and not to answer our enduring, existential questions.

What is it that beckons a secular culture to focus on Jesus for just two or three weeks a year? I find this whole secular-yet-religious-dog chasing-the-tail-thing intriguing because politicians and so many others claim America is a Christian nation, yet we don’t go to church anymore, and our money is stamped with “In God We Trust.” Our religious claim is engraved on money. Think about that for a minute.

Poverty, hunger, violence, and racism are just a few of the enduring stories that make our headlines each day in this country. Yet, we are told this is a Christian nation and so much better than the other countries in our world – countries in which poverty, hunger, racism, and violence also dominate the news.

Don’t get me wrong; I love this country and I am grateful to live here and I am grateful for a government and military which protect my freedom. But we are not a Christian nation. Were we ever? When this country was founded as a “Christian” nation, according to some, the colonies were full of slaves. The Declaration of Independence, to which we rightfully point with justifiable pride, declared all people are equal. Do we believe all people are equal?

I watched a disappointing movie this past week, simply entitled “Judas.” The movie came on late one night and I watched it through, no matter that Jesus had blue eyes, auburn hair, and could look like me. I doubt Jesus looked like that, but I continued to watch. The acting was not good, the gospel passages were co-mingled in a way to get them all in, and it was, well, bad. It was, as they say, a coming train wreck and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Our secular movie culture depicts Jesus in the worst of ways and yes, I was watching.

Are the reports of the gospel writers, now so fashionably vogue to debate, accurate and trustworthy? Can we fashion a life, fashion any life, fashion our life, around these claims of the gospel writers?

This is the question we are really getting at: does any of this matter?

I have always been taken by how Frederick Buechner wrote about the resurrection claims in his best-selling book The Faces of Jesus: “the earliest reference to the resurrection is Paul, and he makes no mention of an empty tomb at all. But the fact of the matter is that in a way it hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing because in the last analysis what convinced the people that he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence. And so it has been ever since.”

In the infamous movie The Last Temptation of Christ, producer and director Martin Scorsese adapted the portrayal of Jesus from the infamous novel of the same title, by Nikos Kazantzakis. My favorite scene, which has now forever altered Judas for me, goes something like this: as Jesus and Judas are talking about the political, real-world implications of God’s kingdom – loving strangers and giving yourself away to others – they both look at the bickering disciples. People like me. People like you. And Judas says to Jesus: “ I didn’t sign up for this!”

Ordinary people like you and me. Ordinary people called to answer the all too tangible nightmare of violence with a real-world answer of respect for other people. Jesus knew what was coming. So did Judas. One chose the way of the world, the way of Brussels, Paris, Palestine, South Sudan, and all the places where humans come up with violence to change the world.

I am not entirely sure what Judas wanted yet we all know he parted ways with Jesus at the end, when his vote as a disciple really counted.

What did you sign up for?