The Passion according to Mel opened on Ash Wednesday and dominated Lent, leaving Mel billions of dollars richer by Easter than he already was and the rest of us, if we were informed by no other source, with the impression that Jesus' only task on earth was to die.
But it is another Passion series that interested me. It is a series of disturbing oil paintings on wood panels by New York artist Douglas Blanchard, currently hanging in the Leslie Lohman Gay Art Foundation in Soho. Mel's actors moved in a first-century world, speaking first-century Aramaic and improbable Latin to each other. Blanchard's people walk the streets of a modern city. Jesus wears jeans. He is arraigned in a tired and none-too-clean city courtroom; his bored public defender advises him. One of the priests before whom he is brought is an Episcopal priest, who looks mildly at Jesus from his lectern and takes no action. There are uniformed policemen with pit bulls and submachine guns; one of them gives us the finger. There is a woman at the last supper, people in wheelchairs at the entrance into Jerusalem. The Jerusalem mob turns into an antigay demonstration: "HELL IS HOT! HOT! HOT! screams one of the signs, and another one reads "GOD HATES..." only we can't see the rest. But we know that it says "God Hates Fags." One of the disabled turns on Jesus, too, drawing one finger across his throat and looking at us: Go ahead, crucify Him. The pair of disciples eating with Jesus on the road to Emmaus appear to be Muslim: one of them is female, and wears a hijab. Their worn suitcase sits between them. They're refugees.
There are people in this painted passion we don't usually expect to see together. But they all do come together in this young Christ, which is what really does happen. We all come together, people we like and expect to like and people we expect to avoid. Jesus doesn't avoid people.
A Gay Vision, this cycle is subtitled. It will be moving to gay and lesbian and transgendered people everywhere, of course, but they are not the only ones who will see themselves and their city in these extraordinary paintings. We see ourselves, too. Our city. Our world.
The risen Christ is disturbing, too. He is not sweet: He is still intent, still at work, those whom he brings forth from the dead more puzzled than joyous, not yet allowing themselves to rejoice, one man only just throwing his hat tentatively in the air. Nobody yet knows what has happened.
And we don't, either. The cycle isn't finished yet.
To view the Blanchard Passion, go to http://www.leslielohman.org/Pages/CurrentTriveroHall.htm