Movie of the Week: Jesus of Nazareth by Franco Zeffirelli 1977
Clip: 33:00 – 34:20 & 1:43:50 – 1:48:20
Old Testament: Isaiah 8:11-15
New Testament: Luke 4:14-30
Who is Jesus and why did he come? These two questions are at the center of the Christian faith. “Jesus is the Son of God” is a straightforward enough answer (though not requiring any faith), but beyond that question lies the deeper, more complex question as to why he came. The first clip from Jesus of Nazareth highlights the tension between those with differing opinions of “messianic expectations.” That is to say, when the messiah finally did come, what kind of messiah was he going to be? The zealots expected a warrior messiah who would fight the Romans and restore the political nation of Israel.
The movie portrays Judas and Simon the Zealot as especially possessing this sentiment regarding the messiah. The Bible doesn’t provide very much insight into Simon, and with Judas we are left to conjecture whether it was the ideology of the zealots he found attractive and Jesus’ messianic claims so lacking.
The scene from the synagogue where Jesus stands up and reads from the scroll of Isaiah reinforces the audacious claims that Jesus was making. Like so much of Scripture, it is easy for us to read over these moments and not fully grasp the magnitude of them. Jesus was challenging centuries of tradition and interpretation – the son of a local carpenter (who may have died long before this moment), the Messiah? It’s quite a claim.
In our world today, we face the same domesticating tendency of the messiah. It’s easy to box Jesus into a revered spiritual leader who has inspiring teaching but offers little relevance to our daily lives or to actual challenges facing the world. If we see Jesus’ chief role as a purveyor of morals and values, we’ve completely missed the crucial point in these moments of Jesus’ life. Jesus is ushering in a new world. He is not simply providing a commercial for life after death. He didn’t come to encourage us to grin and bear it because dessert will be worth it. That wouldn’t have upset the religious establishment. That wouldn’t have created such a stir. As Lee Camp writes in his book, Scandalous Witness, “Jesus and the early Christians were not executed because they were spiritual. They were executed because their politic was a threat to the powers that be.”3
Since Christianity entered the bed of the empire with Constantine over 1600 years ago, it’s become difficult to disentangle itself. Jesus’ reading in Nazareth is deserving of our reflection and meditation. Jesus was proclaiming that something different was happening. The kingdom of God was at hand. The kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus changes everything. Unfortunately, we spend so much time watching news and consuming media that offer a different narrative. That narrative is at direct odds with the message of Christ.
We haven’t broached the topic of fasting since early in our Lenten journey but consider fasting from media today – I know that’s an especially tall task right now, but it might be healing for us to be reminded the world goes on even if we don’t get “caught up” on today’s headlines. In our world of mobile technology, this is easier said than done, but spending some time away from media helps clear our minds of unnecessary noise. The Bible tells a different story and we are naïve to think that spending a few minutes in daily Bible study is sufficient to counteract the powers of our culture. Spend time considering ways you have sold out your faith to culture, media, and politics that Jesus deserves.