by David Sisler

"I don't know if you know this or not, but on television you don't use the name ‘Jesus.' ‘God' you can use. If you notice Touched by an Angel, they never refer to Jesus, only God. It's sad that you can talk about Satan, you can talk about Hitler, but when you start talking about our Lord and Savior, it's taboo." Those were the comments of actor and producer Chuck Norris, speaking during the Salvation Army's 110th annual meeting on network resistance to an episode he wrote of Walker, Texas Ranger, which included a gang member who converts to Christianity and becomes a youth pastor. For two nights this week, Mr. Norris was wrong as CBS aired its four hour mini-series, Jesus.

Several days before Jesus appeared on TV in this newest version of the greatest story ever told, a friend asked me if I was going to watch. I said, "I've read the Book." But Producer Lorenzo Minoli did a credible job bringing John's Gospel to television. I liked almost all of it. Was it the movie I would have made? No. But then I wasn't asked.

Certain things worked very well for me. Jesus, as played by Jeremy Sisto, constantly smiled and danced and laughed. I like a Savior who laughs. If children loved him, he would have been a man given to laughter. Children don't like sour pusses. I also appreciated his grief and anger over the death of Joseph. That scene matches some of the prayers I have prayed. In anger, I have accused God. In love, he has always answered.

The temptation scene was powerful. I remember one Hollywood production where Satan was a wizened old man, looking rather pitiful and powerless. Satan in an Armani suit was anything but powerless. The master of disguise even transformed himself into a woman to tempt in a different way. Mary, the sister of Martha, also offered temptation, not to sin, but to be diverted from his mission. Those who take offense at those scenes may forget the words of Hebrews 4:15 – "He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet [was] without sin (emphasis mine).

CBS, who refused to allow a Christian website to advertise on the program, claiming it might compromise the message of the production, then went into a commercial for Judging Amy. In the featured episode, Amy and her male friend rip each other's clothes off and fall into bed. There was certainly no resisting the sin of fornication there. It makes you wonder what we missed by network censorship of the other commercial.

At one point Jesus told Andrew, "I am sorry I disappointed you." To be disappointed in Jesus is life's greatest disappointment. To stare into the coffin of a dead child, to hold the final divorce decree of a marriage you did not want to end, to receive the foreclosure notice for a business that failed, who has not been disappointed, and more, and blamed Jesus. Mary and Martha, two of his closest friends did. I know I have not been immune.

When a band of Zealots murdered Roman soldiers, Judas shouted at Jesus, "You cry over Roman blood?"

"It is human life," Jesus said.

"They are not human," Judas spat back.

"Your hate will only harm you," Jesus answered.

With all of the animosity in South Carolina over the Confederate flag, both sides of the struggle need to re-wind that scene and watch it again.

There were two glaring errors in an otherwise good screen play. Around the table of the Last Supper, the film disciples declare to a man, "Not I," when Jesus says, "One of you will betray me." The Bible says they asked, to a man, "Am I the one?" They knew in their hearts that each of them had the capacity to betray him. Every Christian knows it, too.

When asked why he must die, the reel Jesus said, "I will die for the everlasting kindness of the human heart." That is a direct contradiction of Scripture. Jeremiah wrote, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." God's real Son died because human hearts are filled with deliberate, wilful sin, and there was no other payment possible than his blood.

If Mr. Minoli had asked me, there would have been one more scene. When Jesus died on television, and Jerusalem trembled under an earthquake, I shouted, "Show the veil!" When he died on the cross 2,000 years ago, the temple veil, woven of material as thick as a man's hand, the symbolic and literal separator of humankind from the presence of God, was torn in half. And forever the way was opened to the Father's presence.


Published in The Augusta Chronicle 5/20/2000

Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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