I spent Christmas day today watching all four segments of “Jesus of Nazareth.” I don’t know how many times I’ve viewed all or part of this miniseries since it first aired in 1977, but I do know that I never tire of its wonderful telling of the story of Jesus’ life or of Robert Powell’s mesmerizing portrayal of Jesus. Experts may tell us that the real Jesus looked nothing like the longhaired, bearded, fair-skinned, and blue-eyed Powell, but Jesus will always look, sound, and act like Powell in MY imagination. Powell’s performance is indelibly etched into my brain.
But why would a non-Christian like me enjoy this program and Powell so much? Christians would no doubt say that it’s because they resonate with the part of me that knows that “Jesus is Lord.” But I say that one does not need to be Christian and believe that Jesus was truly the one and only human incarnation of God and born of a virgin to sacrificially atone for our sins with his sinless life and rise bodily from the dead to find the story of Jesus’ life immensely entertaining and moving, especially as it’s told by Franco Zeffirelli’s masterpiece. One can fully appreciate “Jesus of Nazareth” for showing Jesus as a remarkably wise and eloquent teacher, and that is how I see him.
To those who would accuse me of sinfully denying the obvious facts of Jesus’ unique divinity and miraculous deeds, I point to the end of “Jesus of Nazareth” and Gospel accounts where Mary Magdalene tells the hiding disciples that Jesus “is risen,” and none but Peter believe her. If they who lived with Jesus, heard all his sermons, and supposedly watched him walk on water, heal the sick, feed a multitude of thousands by materializing bread and fish out of thin air, raise people from the dead, and utter numerous prophesies that came true did not believe Mary’s words, how in the world or heaven am I to be blamed for not believing in Jesus’ superhuman feats and nature?
I love “Jesus of Nazareth” as a great story masterfully told, and I revere Jesus as a great spiritual figure. That is enough.