The other evening one of my student groups in Cambridge came over to watch the film Jésus de Montréal (1989 in Canada and 1990 in the USA and Europe, by Quebec film director Denys Arcand). The plot revolves around five actors who perform a Passion play, and over the course of the play's run, their own lives become completely affected by the gospel stories they are playing out.
The stark reality of what happens when these not-very-religious people engage with the Gospel is played out by Arcand in contrast to the Church as institution, which he depicts as having insulated itself against the radical effects of the message it proclaims.
In one scene, one of the female actors goes for an audition for a TV advert, and finds herself on the receiving end of some of the abuses that are not uncommon in that business. The actor who plays Jesus accompanies here to this audition, and when he sees the abuses, steps in to protect his friend. His reaction is a kind of calculated anger – calm on the surface, but fearless through a passionate reaction against the abuse. He trashes the studio, turning over the tables and tripods, smashing cameras and computers as he goes along.
One of the students spoke up when the film was over, voicing what many of us must have thought – which is that the traditional way to think of Christianity is that you aren't allowed to get angry, feel passionate, care so much about one thing that some other things have to be dealt with in a radical way.
The story of Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers in the Temple can be way too sanitized. Have you ever been told that he was only acting out anger, not really angry? Or that he was angry but completely in control? Or acting to make a point but calm and kind really? I have, and I have long believed that a Jesus who had no passion or anger is a dangerous fiction.
I love the Jésus de Montréal adaptation of that biblical story precisely because it delivers an image of the kind of passion and commitment to the cause of righteousness that makes Jesus (or his followers) fearless even against the powers that be.
© The author. Maggi Dawn is Anglican chaplain at Robinson College, Cambridge, UK. She is an author, musician, occasional BBC broadcaster, regular speaker at Greenbelt Festival, dedicated blogger, and specialist on Coleridge’s theological writing. She has recently contributed to An acceptable sacrifice? Homosexuality and the Church, edited by Duncan Dormor and Jeremy Morris.