MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY CHARITY BISHOP
Have you ever wondered what Jesus was like as a child? How he felt about leaving Alexandria, a great city of intellectual learning and trade, for a Judea under Roman occupation? He went from a philosophical environment to crucifixions, and although John tells us in scripture that Jesus did “many things,” enough to fill several books, we know nothing about his childhood until at twelve years old, his parents found him among the rabbis in the temple.
Speculation on the childhood of Christ is so controversial, only former vampire novelist Anne Rice dared to do it, in her first-person novel Christ Out Of Egypt, made into a film last year called The Young Messiah. In both, Christ is seeking the truth of his birth and identity at seven years old, but the subplot involving a Roman Centurion named Severus whom Herod Archelaus commissions to “find and kill this messiah-child,” was written for the screen. Young Jesus resurrects dead birds and boys, heals a relative from a fatal illness, and discovers the truth about his birth and greater purpose, while Severus faces demons from his past… he led the assault that murdered the babies of Bethlehem for “Herod the Great.”
This film aroused some controversy upon release due to its speculative nature; some felt it inappropriate to “imagine” stories centered around a young Messiah, but I find it thoughtful and well-written, based upon in-depth research, with a respectful tone toward Christ and his family. It brings awareness to what it must have been like for Jesus, to encounter his first instances of brutality… to face the horrors of a Roman occupation… and it shows how others interact with him, even as a child; through receptive hearts or resistant ones. Instead of thanking Jesus for resurrecting him after an accident, an Egyptian bully attacks him a second time; a stranger on the road, kind enough to give Jesus a carved wooden camel, turns knowledge of him over to Archelaus; when the Centurion asks why he did it, he confesses it was for money—something even the hardened Severus, child-killer, set upon the trail of slaughtering “yet another boy,” struggles to understand.
In one scene, a man assaults a woman on the road. She’s a slave and her attacker murdered her master and mistress, raped her, and intends to sell her; she kills him in self-defense. Jesus has never seen “domestic” violence before, stricken as he encounters human cruelties unfamiliar to him from a sheltered upbringing in Egypt. He shows her kindness and forgiveness in inviting her to come with them and be part of the family; he gives her the gift of sandals “for when you walk with us,” a symbol of shedding her old life, and walking forward to a new one. The Jews could have stoned her for killing a man, and or for her rape —making her “unclean,” but he looks upon her in love.
It’s not a sin to wonder, theorize, or discuss how Jesus might have come to the knowledge of his birth and purpose, or to ponder what miracles he might have performed that weren’t written down. The film invites us to contemplate these things and more… to consider the life Jesus left behind in returning to Judea; to wonder what his first interaction with Roman soldiers was like; to imagine how he must have felt, witnessing incredible acts of violence and loss; to learn about the zealots and his people’s persecution; and to grow into the rabbi who urged a nation under domination to turn the other cheek, offer forgiveness to their enemies, and “love one another.”
Stories are powerful, which is why Jesus used them so often in his teachings; he told people parables intended to provoke them to think and change their way of thinking. A good story lingers with you longer than anything else because it engages your mind and heart. The stories that urge us to think deeper, contemplate truths beyond the obvious, and make historical or Biblical figures real in respectful ways, broaden our understanding of God. For me, few do that better than The Young Messiah.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop would love to spend all her free time mulling over, theorizing, and philosophizing on the vast spiritual / moral lessons of cinema and literature, but alas, she must make a living, so she spends her days doing editorial work. She devotes her free time to babysitting her bipolar cat, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life… when she isn’t editing Femnista!