Nikos Kazantzakis' 1960 work of fiction, The Last Temptation of Christ has been condemned by religious leaders throughout the United States.
It is the story of Jesus' struggle to come to terms with who he really is. Is he the Messiah? Is he destined to be the savior of mankind?
Sometimes he rebelled. Why couldn't he simply be an ordinary man? Live out his life doing his work as a carpenter? Have a wife and children?
But God would not leave him alone.
So he finally gave up his idea of a normal and comfortable life, and began what God had called him to do.
It was never easy, and right up to the end, Jesus had many dreams and visions of a very different life for himself.
Since The Last Temptation of Christ is fiction, and never claimed to be based on the gospels, I don't understand the outrage about this book - or the movie. Especially since Jesus ends up gladly doing God's will. Yet, the author was excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church.
The book was on the Vatican's list of banned books. And when the movie opened in 1988, the Vatican publicly criticized it.
Evangelicals considered it blasphemy to suggest that Jesus might have dreamed of being married, or questioned his mission. Christians picketed the offices at Universal Pictures. Religious leaders across the country organized protests. Fundamentalist Christians picketed theaters. The film was banned in several southern cities.
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At least one church in the town where I live warned the congregation against watching the movie. I don't remember all they said about it, (I wish I did!) but one thing was that it "portrayed Jesus as a homosexual".
I really don't know where they got that idea! I watched the movie, and then knew that the church had told us a blatant lie! (It never did show in theaters here, but one video store was brave enough to carry it.)
Now that I've read The Last Temptation of Christ cover to cover, that church's claim seems even more bizarre.
Of all Jesus' thoughts, dreams and visions described in the book, he never imagined himself with another man. But even if he had, doesn't the Bible tell us that Jesus was tempted in all ways? Wouldn't that have been included in "all ways"?
In Hebrews 4:15, the King James Version of the Bible puts it this way: "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin".
New International Version: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin".
That the human part of Jesus would sometimes doubt he was the Messiah, or to imagine a more ordinary life for himself seems reasonable to me.
Maybe these religious folks don't really believe that Jesus was tempted in all ways. Or maybe they just don't want to think about some of the things that would include.
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