On Monday, March 8, ABC will air the latest in a long line of movies about Jesus. What makes this one different is its point of view; it tells the story of Jesus' life and death from the perspective of the man who betrayed him, Judas Iscariot. While this might sound like a recipe for deconstruction and other religious vandalism, it's not. The film, titled Judas, is the product of a collaboration between Paulist Productions and writer/producer Tom Fontana who won multiple Emmys for shows like Homicide: Life on the Streets and Oz. According to Father Frank Desiderio, the president of Paulist Productions, their goal was to find a new way to tell the story of Jesus while remaining faithful to the Gospel accounts. The "new way" looks at Jesus from Judas's point of view. Since the Gospels tell us very little about Judas -- only that he was a thief and Jesus' betrayer -- Fontana exercised creative license while remaining true to the biblical Jesus. As in previous depictions, the Judas of this film is a zealot, a member of the Jewish party that sought to free Judea of Roman control. When Judas first hears Jesus, he believes that Jesus is the Messiah who will set his people free. Of course, that's just who Jesus was, but not in the sense that Judas thought. Judas's misapprehension is the vehicle by which the audience is invited to answer the film's central question, a question about Jesus: "Who do you say I am?" As Father Desiderio points out, all of us, including the other disciples, have been mistaken about who Jesus is at one time or another. Like Judas, we attempt to make Jesus conform to our expectations rather than believe His teaching about who He is. The Judas of the film is so busy trying to push Jesus in the direction he believes Jesus ought to go that he doesn't hear, much less understand, what Jesus is saying. When Jesus looks out on the crowds and has compassion on them, Judas looks out and sees the core of an army. As Jesus' hour approaches, Judas wants nothing to do with Jesus' words about impending death. As his expectations are frustrated, he loses faith and eventually betrays Jesus. The question "Who do you say I am?" is still with us. Some of the criticism of Mel Gibson's wonderful film The Passion of the Christ was that it misrepresented Jesus. Critics still want Jesus, you see, to be a sage or an ethical teacher or a political organizer, not the suffering servant the films depict. ABC is giving viewers the chance to hear what Jesus actually said about who He is and why He had to die. Whether or not they get more chances largely depends on the film's ratings. Father Desiderio and other Christians are ready to provide the networks with content, if the ratings hold up. It's up to Christians, who rightly complain about the state of American television, to prove to Hollywood that there's a market for films that are born out of a desire to be faithful to Scripture, rather than the desire to twist and distort. For further reading and information: Frank Desiderio, CSP, "Study Guide for the movie 'Judas'," Paulist Productions. Learn more about the ABC television movie Judas. Also see this page from Paulist Productions. Ellwood E. Kieser, "Why I make movies," National Catholic Register, 9 April 1999. "'Judas' to show human side of Christ's betrayer," Chicago Sun-Times, 1 March 2004. Read a film review of Judas at the Hollywood Jesus website. Warren W. Wiersbe, Classic Sermons on Judas Iscariot (Kregel, 1995). Kim Paffenroth, Judas: Images of the Lost Disciple (Curriculum Publishing, Presbyterian Church, 2002). See BreakPoint's Viewer's Guide for The Passion of the Christ. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040212, "Who Killed Jesus?: Setting the Record Straight." BreakPoint Commentary No. 040120, "The Da Vinci Conspiracy: Distinguishing Fact from Fiction."


Chuck Colson


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