THE LAST TEMPTATION OF JESUS

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“This film for me is like a prayer.

It’s my way of worshiping.”

<Martin Scorsese, director of the film>

I

I cannot but write dawn some strong figures of the scenes that remain in my mind after watching the film. They are more a fragmentation than a systematic narration.

  1. At the beginning of the film Jesus was making his own cross. It followed by the dialogue between Jesus and Judas. Judas was opposing the idea of the cross as it was reveled at the end of the film. Judas opposed also the idea of Jesus to die on the cross in order to save human being.
  1. The film presented Jesus as an ordinary man filled with an extraordinary power. As an ordinary man Jesus found himself in the context and historicity where his peoples were preparing themselves for the coming of Messiah as John the Baptist preached about. And as the other people did, Jesus too went to the Jordan River and asking for baptism from John. There was no christological proclamation as synoptic and John accounted it.
  1. John the Baptist considered Jesus as a man with such a special gift or extraordinary ability. And for him this power could be developed through fasting and meditation in the desert. So, John asked Jesus to go to the desert. There, in the desert that Jesus experienced temptation. Jesus was able to defend himself in front of the first temptation, but not for the second one. Here Jesus fell into temptation and ate the fruit from the apple tree. Then He got angry and cut dawn that tree.
  1. There were several apostles who followed Jesus. Some apostles of John also followed him although John himself didn’t like it. The desire of the disciples to have a political figure of a master was pictured too in the movie. Jesus went to the fiesta in Canaan and he really enjoyed it. When Jesus became stronger John became weaker and weaker. John died.
  1. Movie presented also how Jesus was doing his mission. And it was like a magician exercising his ability. Jesus practicing it through convoking the name of the Lord. Here Jesus was merely a human being with an extraordinary power. In certain extraordinary event (miracles that he performed he was surprised too. He even expressed his timidity (like when he brought back Lazarus life from death).
  2. The political figure in Jesus as expected by the apostles was very clearly shown in the movie, especially when they came dawn from Galilee to Jerusalem where Jesus was welcomed with songs and praise. And this idea was remained in the mind of the apostles, even until the death of their Master.
  1. The “tragedy” of crucifixion was really dramatic. Jesus was pictured in his desperateness. Here was the moment when he fell into temptation not to die on the cross as the way to save human being. He then, through the help of a Satan-turned-to-be-an-angel, escaped the cross magically. No one knew that. Then Jesus undermined his divinity, obeyed his humanity, married and had children (It is clear also in the dialogue between Jesus and Paul).
  1. Among the disciples Judas was playing a very important role. At the beginning he tried to keep away the idea of Jesus to save human being through his death and resurrection, but now he appeared very amazingly. Jesus asked Judas to betray him. This is the reason for Judas crucial role of play. But at the end, Judas was so disappointed, especially when he realized that Jesus escaped his cross.
  1. At the end Jesus was encouraged by his own apostles to embrace again his divinity and welcoming the salvific mission in redeeming the world. Only then that Jesus accepted his death on the cross.

II

I prefer to answer the questions number 2 and 3 all together because the images that affected my feelings at the same time “destroyed” my comprehension about who is Jesus up to now.

One image affected me very strongly, i.e. the dialogue between Paul and Jesus. It touches a very crucial part of my faith. Paul converted from his religion (36 AD) in order to serve the resurrected Jesus. The Easter experience (different from the Easter appearance) then becomes the foundation of Christian faith on Jesus and his salvific mission. This Easter experience moved Paul to share it to other people. But what happened next? Jesus came to him and revealed another fact. I just imagine that if the scene of the movie were historical then we have to conclude that our faith is the result of the invention of the apostles (especially Paul). The crucified and risen Jesus then serves just as a created fact of them. Consequently, Paul must go against his own preaching when he convincingly said, “If there is no resurrection then our faith will be meaningless.”

Did Jesus really rise from the death? If it were so, then with which body was that resurrection? Hence, if Paul cannot provide the answer it means that the resurrected Jesus as being preached by him is an illusion of Paul himself? This problem was already existed in Corinth in the year 57 AD (cf. 1Cor 15). That is why it becomes interesting to ask this question: “Why do popular minds nowadays questioned again the resurrection of Jesus, or better, find difficult to perceive that resurrection?”

William P. Loewe argues that, first, the difficulty of the Corinthians–and thus us–to understand the resurrection of Jesus is because we are not able to reconcile yet our dualistic view of the body and soul. We might think that the death of the body is a “blessing”, in the sense that it sets free the soul. In this context, the resurrection of Jesus body and soul is a contradiction. Instead, Loewe argues that when dealt with the question of the people of Corinth Paul did not intend to paralleled the resurrection of the body and soul with the miracles of Jesus that happened to the young man in Nain, the daughter of Jairus or Lazarus. It is because to rise from the death is not a “re-mortalization”[i] of the body and soul as it was occurred to those people, but rather a salvific act when God the Father “rescued Jesus from the death and brought him to a way of being with God as a soma pneumatikon, one who is filled with God’s Spirit, in a way that fulfills Jesus in his humanity, liberates him from all that in this life works to make human beings unfree, heals all that makes human beings less than whole.” [ii] In other word, resurrection of Jesus was not perceived by Paul as a resuscitation of the body (corpse), but a final and complete transformation, a salvation as a whole.

Second, we could not expect eyewitnesses to tell us what was really happening at the time of resurrection. Even if there were already newspaper and photography, they could not cover the reality of resurrection, because it goes beyond the spatio temporal thing. This is a tendency of our positivistic mind when we tend to see and calculate all things in graphics, numbers or pictures. Paul says that Jesus appeared to him, but we cannot expect this account as merely an objective datum. There is no such a value free of value-laden datum at all, even from the modern science point of view. The witness of Paul along the way from Damascus to Jerusalem was an expression of his faith that Jesus was really resurrected that that experience was an initiative of Jesus to disclose himself to Paul, an existential experience that brings conversion and mission. That is why this experience of Paul was more on a revelation–God makes himself to be known through the Son–and not just a physical appearance.

Third, if Paul stressed the resurrection more on the message that it brought for our salvation, we do have what the scholars call the data of the resurrection as mentioned in the Synoptic and John’s Gospel.[iii] Again, we believe on the resurrection not merely because of those data (the tomb and Easter appearances). In fact, Marie-Louise Gubler suggests that we should go beyond those data in order to understand more precisely what was really happening to Jesus. And it lies on the effort to find the deep meaning of the resurrection of the Lord. She writes: “When it was confessed that God ‘awakened Jesus from the death’, people were emphasizing God’s protest

against the injustice of Jesus’ execution and at the same time maintaining the in-breaking of the end of the world because the awakening of the dead was to occur ‘at the end of days.’ The view that God had restored Jesus and thus ‘annulled’ the trial before Pilate, and the conviction of the in-breaking of the end-time, gave the disciples the courage and urgency to stand up and continue Jesus’ work.” [iv]

See here that our believe and acceptance on the resurrection of Jesus is not merely because of the supportive data that we have, but rather a momentum when God takes the initiatives to disclose himself through the Son–with his entire life–and to lead us to experience our salvation as a whole act of redemption. Resurrection then becomes an existential experience that supports and nourishes the whole of our being. In this sense we can say that people nowadays should learn how to transcend the objective facts regarding the resurrection and come closer to the living God where the inbracketing of one’s rationalistic-positivistic mind is needed. “You believe because you see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 2:29).

Actually, this dialogue touches a deeper christological problem regarding the awareness of Jesus regarding his own death. From the dialogue I perceive that the film presented the crucifixion and death of Jesus in such a way that it becomes an avoidable impetus. It is true that from human point of view (even from the way Jesus perceived his mission as a human being) death on the cross is a fate. But it is unavoidable reality. Why? Because Jesus was very sure, that dyeing on the cross is a culmination of his total obedience and kenosis to the Father who has sent him. And his life and mission has prepared him to understand and accept the sacrifice willingly.[v]

With this explanation, I then comprehend Jesus as Christ, the resurrected Lord, who was able to enter his glory because he was faithful to his salvific mission. As a human he was anguish in front of the fable of the cross. But he didn’t escape from that reality not only because of his commitment to the Father’s will, but also his very act of emptying himself in order that human being could attain salvation. This act of emptying himself through the incarnation of the Son helps me to understand better the gratuitous love of the Father. It is a salvific love through which I become not only fully human, but also find raison d’être for my existence here on earth as well as the life after death.

III

I prefer to answer the questions number 4 and 5 as one. I came into touch with the temptation of Jesus or the temptation of the Son of God as the Collegeville Bible Commentary put it. We found this story in the synoptic. Mark accounted it very short (only two verses), while Matthew and Luke described in along manner in order to stress how many times and the reason why Jesus was tempted. This is the temptation of the Son of God (the announcement of the Father shortly after the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. See. Mat 3:17; Luke 3:22; Mk 1:11) who have been filled with the Holy Spirit (the coming dawn of the Holy Spirit during baptism. See. Mat 3:16; Luke 3:22, Mk 1:10). This Holy Spirit then accompanied the Son of god to the dessert to be tempted as Matthew put it (Mt 4:1).

The movie shows how Jesus was tempted, but different from synoptic’s accounts, Jesus fell into temptation. And it was the temptation regarding the bread. An apple tree appeared in front of Jesus and He picked and one of its fruits. If we pay attention to this part where Jesus fell into temptation, then we should say that Jesus sought to satisfy his own material/bodily needs more than the needs of the Father.[vi]

Our question is Why Martin Scorsese, the movie director, wants to underline this part and not the temptation on the status and power (second temptation) or political figure (third temptation)? I think the mission of that movie could be found here (of course also in other parts), that is the struggle between the divinity and humanity of Jesus. As Nikos Kazantzakis, the writer of the novel “The Last Temptation of Jesus” noted it in the prolog; these struggles is so intense and anguish to the point that Jesus didn’t want to perish his body as well as his soul. Kazantzakis wrote: “I love my body and did not want it to decay. I have fought to reconcile these two primordial forces which are so contrary to each other; to make them realize that they are not enemies but, rather, fellow workers, so that they might rejoice in their harmony–and so that I might rejoice with them.” In other word, Jesus, being aware that he has a special relationship with God, could return to him or better identify himself with the Father and carry out His salvific mission not by sacrificing his own body, but by enjoying it. This idea helps us too to understand why did Jesus avoid the pain of the cross and got married.

Here then, I think, we are facing another crucial question: “What kind of Son of God is Jesus?” Let us quote from the Collegeville Bible Commentary:

“His conduct during the three tests make it clear that he does not seek to satisfy his own material needs, to make a miraculous display of his status and power, or to enter into partnership with the devil for the sake of the political authority. Jesus emerges a totally obedient to the will of the Father….” [vii]

If that is the case then how could we understand properly the film? I am going to deal with this problem in order to answer our last guide question.

IV

From the above description, I could say that the movie presents Jesus Christ merely as a human being (different from the idea of Jesus as “the son of man”). Moreover, as a man he fell into temptation. If that is the case then what about his supernatural power as it is pictured in the movie? I think we could answer this question by answering another fundamental question: “What kind of manhood of Jesus is being pictured in the movie?”

Actually, the movie could be concluded in this way: “Jesus Christ is torn with conflict between his humanity and divinity. He knows that he is special, that he is blessed with special power given to him by God, but he does not know whether to pursue his holy destiny or to become a normal man. It is in this conflict that cause him to wonder if what he is doing is right and if he is indeed the chosen one.”

Here the movie pictures the second person of the Holy Trinity as a struggling between His manhood and divinity. Manhood is viewed as something negative, or what Nikos Kazantzakis called as “the dark of immemorial forces of evil one.” These evil forces are trying to pull dawn the assented soul of the divinity of Jesus. In addition, at a moment Jesus surrenders his own soul to the forces by escaping the cross. The reason is because he wants to live as a normal man and has his own children. Here then we may say that Jesus did not want to submit his own manhood to the power of the spirit.

However, Jesus too has his divine nature (spirit) through which the supernatural or superhuman acts of Jesus were demonstrated. This divinity of Jesus enabled him to realize and “accept” his salvific mission at the beginning, then surrender himself under the power of the body. But at the end the power of the spirit enabled him to again to recognize his own “faults”–the awareness that the little girl who help him avoiding the cross was not an angel but a Satan–and took into his shoulder that salvific mission. Jesus bloody cross then accepted by the Father as a sacrifice not merely for the salvation of man kind, but also for the glorification of his own manhood (body).

We could easily say that this idea is far from orthodoxy. It is not concur with our Catholic faith. For us there is no such a battle between the humanity and divinity of Jesus. Jesus is truly human and truly divine as Chalcedon had confessed it. Being a truly human does not lessened his divinity, and vice versa.[viii]

However, how could people still have this kind of thinking? I think that this is the part of the absurdity of thinking of the nowadays people about a person who is truly human and truly divine at the same time. For many people, the homeostatic union of Jesus is something unthinkable. AS Elizabeth A. Johnson noted it, it is easier to accept that “the two nature [of Jesus] had come to be understood as two varieties of the same basic thing, two species of one genus, something like apples and oranges are two kind of the one category fruit. The point that divine nature is holy mystery, in a class by itself and in no way comparable to human or any other kind of nature had simply slipped from view…Jesus became, so to speak, 50/50, partly divine and partly human, or totally divine and partly human, but not truly divine and truly human.[ix]

Because of this “unfair” presentation, I felt bothered by the dialogue between Jesus and Paul. The dialogue shows that Christian faith is the fruit of Jesus’ effort in conquering his bodily needs or desire in its opposition to his divinity. Besides that, although Jesus did not accept the cross, Paul continued to proclaim the “resurrected Jesus”, the person of a non-historical Jesus. “My resurrected Jesus is stronger than you, “said Paul. If it were true then the Christianity is not based on a solid rock, but rather on the sand. It is not more than boundless of moral doctrines or teachings.

***

Bibliography

A. Johnson, Elizabeth, Consider Jesus. Waves of Renewal in Christology, Crossroad, N.Y., 1995.

Dupuis, S.J., Jacques, Who Do You Say I Am? Introduction to Christology, Claretian Publication, Queson City, Metro Manila, Philippines, 1995.

O’Carroll, C.S.Sp., Michael, Verbum Caro, an Encyclopedia on Jesus, the Christ, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1992.

Loewe, William P., An Introduction to Christology. Rethinking Jesus’ Religious Significance Today, Claretian Publication, Queson City, Metro Manila, Philippines, 1996.

Theology Digest, TD 45:2 (Summer 1998).

Collegeville Bible Commentary


[i] I create this word for describing the idea that the resuscitation of these peoples from their death is a coming back of their earthly life, the life that will be ended again. This is a finitude life contrasted to the resurrection of the body and soul of Jesus.

[ii] William P. Loewe, An Introduction to Christology. Rethinking Jesus’ Religious Significance Today, Claretian Publication, Queson City, Metro Manila, Philippines, 1996. Pg. 104.

[iii] For this discussion, see for example William P.  Goewe, ibid, chapters 8 and 9.

[iv] Theology Digest, TD 45:2 (summer 1998).

[v] For more details regarding these ideas, see. Elizabeth A. Johnson, Consider Jesus. Waves of renewal in Christology, Crossroad, N.Y., 1995.

[vi] Father says that man should not live by bread alone…. Cf. Mat 8:3.

[vii] Pg.  868.

[viii] See. Elizabeth A. Johnson, Op.cit., pg. 19-33.

[ix] Ibid, pg. 20.

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