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Retelling the Gospel: The Greatest Story Every Told

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In a previous blog, I have shown how a scene in the TV movie “Jesus of Nazareth” rewrites the gospel of Luke and provides us with an interpretation of the some themes found in the same gospel. In the film “The Greatest Story Ever Told” the same rewriting is also obvious.

A transitional scene

One of the highlights of “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is depicted in the picture above. Three men — an old man, a boy and a grown man — witness the resurrection of Lazarus and they run towards the gates of Jerusalem to announce the appearance of the Messiah. The old man is “Old Arum” who figures in the rejection of Jesus in Nazareth. He was depicted in the movie as one who had fond memories of Jesus as a boy. The boy (played by Sal Mineo) is a cripple whom Jesus had healed. Finally, the grown man (farthest left) was introduced in the movie as one of the bystanders at the grave of Lazarus. The scene depicted here is a transitional sequence to the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem and to the rest of the story. These three figures will come up again in important sequences in the last part of the movie.

The grown man will appear in a subsequent Temple scene. Jesus teaches the crowds at the Temple during a celebration of the lights, the backdrop of his self-introduction as the light of the world. In the movie, the authorities see this as the beginning of a sedition so Roman soldiers are sent out to them. When the soldiers arrive, the grown man mentioned above stands in their way. “We are just praying” he says. When he wouldn’t budge from his place, the captain slaps him on the face. But instead of hitting back, the man proffers the other side of his face, an obvious allussion to Jesus’ words: “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other one also (Mt. 5:38).” The sequence concludes with an ominous image of the soldiers forcing their way through the crowd.

A scene following this is the Last Supper. At a certain point during the dinner, the scene shifts back to the Temple to show the boy (played by Sal Mineo) lying dead, presumably as a result of the attack of the soldiers. The healed cripple then becomes one of the first martyrs of the faith.

Finally, during the trial of Jesus at the Sanhedrin, one of the witnesses presented was old Arum. Allussions to John 9:13-41 transform old Arum into John’s man who was born blind. In John 9:13-41, the old man healed from congenital blindness defends Jesus against the Pharisees. Old Arum walks away from the trial scene having defended Jesus well. But his defense will not determine the outcome of the trial, as we already know.

The transitional sequence of three men announcing the Messiah’s appearance at the gates of Jerusalem and the way this is developed in the third part of the movie provides important links to the previous scenes. Sal Mineo plays the character of the healed cripple who also appears at Caphernaum to meet Jesus and to escort the Magdalene away from the crowd after her aborted stoning. Old Arum as already mentioned was in the scene in Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth. The people there had wanted to see whether Jesus would perform an act of sorcery with the blind man. Jesus refused and as he moved away, a rock was thrown at it. He returns afterwards to old Arum, putting his hand on his eyes. But at the end of the sequence, we are made to understand that the old man remains blind. He would reappear however at Lazarus’s tomb supported by a young boy. And it is during the miracle of the resurrection that he regains his sight (Judas — played by David McCallum — notices it). From there, he joins the two other men in running towards Jerusalem, telling the story of the resurrection, to the tune of Handel’s Alleluia. Here one can find a short depiction of Christian life: the joy and excitement that accompanies the announcement of the good news and the consequences that follow it: living Jesus’ teachings even under pressure (the grown man in front of the soldiers), dying for Jesus (the character of Sal Mineo) and witnessing to Jesus (old Arum).

Originally posted 2007-04-05 21:17:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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