‘Paul, Apostle of Christ’: Not For Entertainment Purposes Only

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2018/04/28/paul-apostle-of-christ-not-for-entertainment-purposes-only/

The movie will not be a blockbuster, bringing in only $17 million at last count, after five weeks.

I have heard the complaints about Paul, Apostle of Christ.

It is just not exciting.

Too much talk.

There is not enough about Paul. And shouldn’t Paul be the vigorous evangelist, and not the shadow of a man, as portrayed by James Faulkner?

The violence? Some say too much. Others, too little.

And, finally, what’s the point? There are no observable conversions in the movie, no happy lives because of a belief in Jesus. What’s there to feel good about?

If I may offer an alternative point – a polite way of saying the complainers and critics have swung and missed.

The movie’s content portrays more than Paul’s life, but that of building the early Church in Rome, a quest that appears on a futile and weakened cornerstone of non-resistance. Paul is central to the process, as are his writings – the first catechism produced by the Church.

Paul’s story, as relayed by Luke (played by Jim Caviezel) in the Acts of the Apostles, is also key. Dialogue is vital – and fortunately these actors can pull it off. You want Biblical extravagance? Go rent The Ten Commandments

The violence is not over-the-top (like The Passion of the Christ, which stars Caviezel as Jesus), but nor can it be ignored. Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians is a historical fact; not to mention one of the foundations of our faith. Maybe you’ve heard this, but the Church was built with the blood of the martyrs. Still is.

You want happy-days-are-here-again religion … um, wrong movie.

This movie concerns the final days of Paul. He is old and beaten (literally). There are flashbacks to his life but, for the most part, Faulkner’s subtle portrayal is what you see. Not impressed? Then you fall into the same trap of a world seeking strength in power and might.

“I expected more,” the Roman prefect states when meeting Paul.

A friend of the prefect advises him to appeal to Paul’s “arrogance … No one wants to leave the world without boasting.”

Paul’s later reply:  “I boast only of my weakness (so God can work through me).”

Prefect:  “You are less like a leader and more like a slave.”

Paul:  “A slave who was set free.”

Paul, a prisoner about to be executed, declares that he is free.

Prefect:  “You offer me nothing.”

Paul:  “I offer the truth of salvation.”

Sound theology.

But what is Paul free to do? He has a chance to escape but does not. He denounces plans to attack the Romans, despite the evil they are inflicting.

When Luke argues that “this world knows nothing of love,” Paul retorts:  “Love is the only way.”

Paul goes on about love – it “rejoices in the truth … never delights in evil …” Much of the words come from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. It is the chapter read often at weddings. But this love Paul speaks of is no lovey-dovey feeling, but a power. Placed in the context of Paul’s circumstances, the meaning is all the stronger.

Finally, to appreciate this movie, a simple fact must be considered, and contemplated:

Death.

Not specifically the death of martyrs. But all death. Your death. Mine.

In one scene, the prefect’s friend, a go-for-the-gusto kind of guy, says we must enjoy life (re: party) … “this is why the gods keep the date of our death a secret.”

Something in that sentiment sounds like the speech Mr. Keating gives his students in Dead Poets Society, when he tells them they will eventually be dead, so seize the day.

Is there more than that? Paul tells the prefect that this life is like a cup of water that leaks through a man’s fingers, whereas “the kingdom I speak of … is an endless, expansive sea.”

Paul, Apostle of Christ is about genuine faith. It will be unsatisfying to both the staunch atheist and the feel-good-only believers.

This life is full of both happiness and suffering – and, for the early Church, suffering was the norm. Beyond that there is a joy that no one can take away, and a peace which is free from circumstances. It is a state called Blessed (see the Beatitudes).

In the movie, when a group of Christians will soon enter an arena where they will be killed in “Nero’s Circus,” Luke offers this solace:

“There will be a moment of pain. Then we shall be home.”

 

Kevin Thomas is a writer and former teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.

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