It seems network TV is high on Jesus this season. Maybe it's the millennium, or just the hunger for ratings, but the Son of God has been the subject of major films on each of the Big Three networks. Mary, Mother of Jesus premiered in November on NBC to mostly lukewarm reviews; ABC broadcast a critically acclaimed claymation feature, The Miracle Maker, on Easter Sunday; and a four-hour Jesus miniseries airs this month on CBS (May 14 and 17 at 9 p.m. et). In addition, ABC journalist Peter Jennings has turned his personal fascination with Christ into a forthcoming prime-time news special, tentatively titled Peter Jennings: In Search of Jesus.
Jennings is not alone. Humankind has been seeking the Christ long before and ever since the Magi's journey to Bethlehem. "We would see Jesus," said the Greeks in their petition to meet the Christ (John 12:21). That thirst has long driven our souls, and it has shown up in both wonderful and tragic ways: for every sacred pilgrimage there is a holy war.
The fact is that, deep down, if we had our druthers, we all would "see Jesus," even the blindest of us, for that connection with God is the intimacy for which we were made in the first place. We spend most of our lives longing for a glimpse, some intimate, palpable moment in which we know Light, and Light knows us.
We see this no place more clearly than in the tradition of high art in the West: the frescoes of Michelangelo, the oratorios of Bach and Handel, the allegories of Bunyan, Milton, and Tolkien, the poetry of Blake, Hopkins, and Eliot, ad mysterium. As diverse as they are, all of these attempt to encounter and interpret the divine.
And then there are the movies.
Since its birth about a century ago, cinema has produced innumerable retellings ...1