by Elizabeth Carroll
Every December as my son’s birthday approaches I like to meditate on the experience of another Mother who also gave birth in December. This year I found myself craving a visual representation of Mary’s story. My desire led me to Netflix and the 2013 version of The Bible, produced by, and starring, Roma Downey of “Touched by an Angel” fame.
The wonder that has been stripped from Christmas was restored in me.
I started with episode 6, “Hope”, a superb title for the Nativity story. Immediately I noticed the casting had not avoided the usual visual stereotypes. Why is it so difficult for Hollywood to get it right with The Bible? Can there be a reverent, effecting, and yet realistic version? Too often the casting reflects the audience more than the reality. Does Jesus always have to be played by a handsome California surfer dude in order to connect with American audiences? The importance of familiar beauty standards to the human experience is emphasized in these attempts to tell the greatest story ever told. God is perfect, so his human form must look perfect, and glossy, and comforting as well.
Our own experiences naturally influence what we find touching or memorable in stories, even in the greatest story. My main reason for watching was Mary, the mother of God. Her strength and faith fill my spirit. So I was disappointed that short shrift was given to the revelations Mary and Joseph received about their roles in the salvation of humanity. Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist were omitted as well. What struck me though was the prevalence of the theme of freedom of religion for the Jewish people. Roman thugs roamed in every scene and Herod was as odious as one would imagine. (It was easy to make a connection between Herod and a certain leader in our own time.) Clearly life was not sacred, but disposable, even, when Jesus was born. And modern American Christians take for granted certain rights.
In addition, “The Bible” served as a visual reminder of the poverty and suffering Jesus was born into. The wonder that has been stripped from Christmas was restored in me. I marveled at the choice of God to come in absolute love to experience human suffering and also friendship. As the episodes went on to explore the life of Jesus I was touched by how the friendships between the Christ and his apostles were portrayed. The show emphasized his relationship with Peter, a most imperfect friend. Again and again Peter retained Jesus’s love and affection. It was this friendship that was the strongest evangelizing tool. Who on Earth can love us constantly and unconditionally like Jesus? I thought about his while watching how Jesus’s love continues despite our faults and doubts.
In the end I watched all of the New Testament episodes and some of the Old Testament episodes. Despite the hokey casting and questionable abridgments, I would recommend “The Bible” to anyone seeking a strengthening of their sense of wonder during this Christmas season.
Elizabeth Carroll is an elementary school teacher and mother in Las Vegas, Nevada.