Movie of the Week: Jesus of Nazareth by Franco Zeffirelli 1977
Old Testament: Psalm 95
New Testament: Ephesians 5:8-20
Week #4 Movie Introduction Guide: Jesus of Nazareth
Producer/Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Premiere: April 3 – April 10, 1977 on NBC (Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday)
Running Time: 6 hours 12 minutes
Parent Guide/Rating: G
Watch Jesus of Nazareth free on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=805&v=7-Rp-Uas2Vc&feature=emb_title
Many people consider Franco Zeffirelli’s magnum opus, Jesus of Nazareth, to be the greatest Jesus film ever made. As the earlier films about Jesus had stretched the limits of attainable theatrical release in terms of duration (The Greatest Story Ever Told was over three hours long), Zeffirelli was especially interested in the prospect of making a made-for-television movie that allowed for a longer development of the story than a theatrical movie would allow.
With Jesus of Nazareth, we see a significant shift that has taken place in the movie treatments of Jesus. In the 1927 King of Kings, Jesus is depicted clearly as God. The white glow envelopes him throughout the movie making it clear that he is not like the other people. Zeffirelli’s movie, however, invites us to see the humanity of Jesus. The movie highlights Jesus’ Jewish roots and begins by portraying the scene of a synagogue and the messianic backdrop of Jesus’ upbringing. It will be a challenge for most of us to find six and a half hours to devote to this great movie, but it is freely available on Youtube if you desire. In the case that you are not able to watch the movie in its entirety, I invite you to at least watch the designated clips each day to try and enter the first century world of Palestine. This movie, perhaps more than all the others, will be of a great aid in our efforts of Ignatian imaginative prayer.
Like the other movies, the writers make use of extra characters and embellished characters to help the story come alive. This serves as a reminder for the limited scope of the Gospel stories. There are many people who played a pivotal role in Jesus’ life. It was seem logical that he had friends growing up, and Mary and Joseph had extended families he would have known. There was the synagogue life that he would have attended. Zeffirelli makes use of Mary’s mother, Anna, who is talked about in the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of James to present an added dimension to his storytelling. Historical accuracy is impossible to confirm, but more importantly, her character encourages us to think about the many other people, not named in the Bible, who would have had a significant role in Jesus’ life. This is all part of seeing Jesus’ humanity – something that has challenged Christians in the United States for a long time.
So challenging, in fact, that when the president of Bob Jones University (a Christian university in South Carolina) heard that Jesus was being portrayed as “an ordinary man – gentle, fragile, simple” – he called for a letter-writing campaign to boycott the major financial backer of the movie, General Motors. Such an uproar arose that GM eventually backed out their support. Once the movie was released, however, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and the boycott was largely seen as an embarrassment. It is interesting how quick Christians can be to anticipate the worse of people. Hopefully, this week can be a blessing to you as you consider some of the major moments in Jesus’ life.
Monday Reflection on Jesus of Nazareth
Clip: 16:30 – 18:30
This scene depicts the beautiful meeting between two of the key women in Jesus’ story: Mary and Elizabeth. Maybe more than anyone other than Jesus, I think we have difficulty seeing the humanity of Mary. What must it have been like: to have heard the message from God or to have all the emotions that must have been racing through her mind? Luke 1:39-45 tells the story of Mary going to visit Elizabeth. The actors in this scene do a marvelous job of capturing the excitement, joy, nervousness, and anticipation that must have been in the air.
Immediately following this story in Luke are the beautiful words of Mary’s famous song, known as “The Magnificat.” What’s so compelling about Mary’s song, is how little we know about her. This description of Mary from Tim Perry seems to help highlight the significance of this moment.
“Now look at Mary. She is obviously not a priest and, though Elizabeth’s cousin, her lineage is unclear. Where Zechariah and Elizabeth stand out as part of the deep biblical tradition of infertile parents, everything about Mary is, well, normal and nondescript. She’s young, engaged, not renowned for her piety, and (presumably) fertile. And yet it’s Zechariah who can’t believe the announcement (1:18), while Mary declares herself ready to be a part of the divine plan (1:38).”
We can’t help but wonder, “Why Mary?” In the same way when reading Genesis we ask, “Why Abraham?” It is a reminder that God is in control of this world and we are simply here to receive his grace and open ourselves up to where he may lead. Today, let us consider Mary’s response to the grace she received: she sang the beautiful song. May that be our inspiration as we receive God’s grace. Spend some time singing today – and perhaps sing the words of Mary.
Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
 W. Barnes Tatum, Jesus at the Movies, 3rd ed. (Salem, OR: Polebridge Press, 2013), 153.
 Tim Perry, Blessed Is She: Living Lent with Mary, (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2006), 15.