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Retelling A Gospel Story

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I bought the CDs of Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” as part of my Lenten viewing.
In addition, I was hoping to use a picture from the movie in one of the presentations I am preparing for a seminar workshop, but I found something more interesting: the way the movie “re-writes” Luke’s account of the woman who touches Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee.

The Lucan (7:36-50) narrative has the following outline:

v. 36 Introduction
v. 37-38 The intrusion of the woman and her actions
v. 39 The reaction of the Pharisee
v. 40-47 Jesus defends the woman using a parable
v. 48-50 Jesus’ message to the woman

The point of the Lucan narrative is to show that “the one who has forgiven much, loves much.” The generosity of the woman and her disregard for protocol was due to an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the experience of having been forgiven. We do not know when this happened, and Luke does not tell. But when Jesus says “your sins are forgiven” he was stating something that already happened for the woman even before she came.

In Franco Zeffirelli’s movie some things were added:

1. Right before the woman came there was a discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees (Joseph of Arimathea and Simon) about the Law of Moses and its relevance for a man’s life. At one point in the discussion, Jesus asks Joseph about the greatest of the commandments. Here the scene from a combination of Matthew 22: 34-40 and Luke 10:25-28 is inserted. Joseph, the good scribe, answers the question about the first and greatest commandment (as in Luke) but Jesus adds the second (as in Matthew). Right after Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself”, Simon retorts “But who is my neighbor?” — a question raised in Luke 10:29 — and a cue for the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the movie, Jesus was not able to answer because suddenly a woman (Anne Bancroft playing Mary Magdalene) entered and begins to kiss Jesus’ feet.

2. The parable in Luke 7:42-43 is omitted and Jesus directly goes to the comparison between the woman’s generosity and the negligence of Simon as a host. Then by way of closing his defense, Jesus says “Because of her great love, her many sins … are forgiven.” In Zefirelli’s version then, the woman’s act of bathing Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair and anointing them with oil (as perfume, no doubt, since it was believed that perfume applied to the feet makes the scent rise up and “covers” the whole person with a pleasant odor), was an act for the neighbor (Jesus) who is loved generously. It is because of that generous love that her “many” sins are forgiven. In other words, Zefirelli’s version is a reinterpretation of Luke 7:36-50 in terms of the saying “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

3. As the scene concludes, there is another addition: Jesus picks up the alabaster jar and tells the Magdalene to take back her jar of alabaster (the perfume she has used to anoint the feet of Jesus) and preserve it for his burial. Thus, a connection is made with a subsequent post-resurrection scene involving the Magdalene, two other women and Roman soldiers.

Talk about retelling the story of Jesus! What I have just described is just one of the many gospel stories that is reinterpreted in “Jesus of Nazareth.” I think it was done well and beautifully.

Originally posted 2007-03-18 21:21:38. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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