In the lead-up to this Sunday’s premiere of KILLING JESUS on NGC, we’ve been screening the three-hour film for audiences around the country including at Bel-Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. Actor Haaz Sleiman (Jesus), executive producer Teri Weinberg, and screenwriter Walon Green all participated in a Q&A following the screening. One of the pastors there, Rev. Kim Dorr-Tilley sent us the note below with her reflections on the evening and her thoughts on the film. We wanted to share her note with you, along with video of the discussion that took place that night in Los Angeles.
Written By Rev. Kim Dorr-Tilley, Bel Air Presbyterian Church
Shortly after showing Killing Jesus at our church, a woman in our congregation randomly bumped into me and thanked me for the screening on our church campus. She went on to say that her teenage daughter was being bullied at school for wearing a cross necklace. Her tormentors weren’t debating theology with her. They were telling her that what she believed was a myth – not a disagreement or misinterpretation of facts, but something that never existed at all. This mother was grateful for the film screening just a few days later that reminded her of the very real, human life of Jesus Christ so that she could encourage her daughter again.
Is the Christian theology of this film a perfect representation of the Gospel accounts of Jesus? By no means. There are times during the film when we are left waiting for the miracle that we know is supposed to be there. We are left wanting for the physical appearance of Jesus Christ after the resurrection, a central point of Christian theology. For some, Haaz Sleiman’s interpretation of Jesus errs on the side of being too fully human and not fully divine enough.
But for me, in this day and age where kids are using the word “myth” to describe the Jesus who saved my life, I’m grateful to the filmmakers and to National Geographic for giving me one more way that I can have conversations about the most pivotal figure in human history. I need to know my theology as I have these conversations. I need to know why I believe what I believe. But most of all, I have the chance to display the character of Christ – His love, His humility, His grace and forbearance – even as I talk of Him. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor. 13:1)
If there is something in pop culture that is an on-ramp for me to engage in passionate and insightful conversations about my Lord, Jesus, I call that a good day.
Killing Jesus looks through the lens of the very real, historical world in which Jesus lived. It looks at the very real, historical forces that weighed upon human life in Israel under Roman occupation. And it looks at the very real, historical events that brought about the killing of Jesus. Does this remove God from this story? Not the God I know. God’s destiny and purpose cannot be removed from these events. Surely Jesus, with both human and divine natures is neither victim nor culprit, neither zealot nor pacifist. He is a singular figure in all human history. Around this figure, Killing Jesus brings to the foreground the fear and ambition of the men who ruled, the women who longed to rule their men, and together thought the control of human history was in their grasp.
Two millennia later, I believe this film provides an opportunity for us to see again that as much as things have changed, some things remain the same. Fear and ambition still cause some to believe history is in their hands. And while Christians prepare for Easter and together declare from our faith, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” we can reflect on all the ways we are still killing Jesus. Does His heart break every time we draw the line between “us” and “them”? Do we betray him every time we want to be right more than we want to be loving? Are we helping that bullied teenage girl know the very real presence of Christ within her or do we turn our anger toward her enemies? Jesus lives. And we are still killing Him.
“The important thing is that in every way…Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Phil 1:18)