In Martin Scorcese’s marvellous film “The Last temptation of Christ” (which is based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis) there is a memorable scene in which a resurrected Jesus bumps into Paul who is preaching about Jesus in the market place! Delicious and thought-provoking at the same time. I have copied the subtitles from the DVD without permission.
JESUS: did you ever see this Jesus of Nazareth after he came back from the dead? I mean with your own eyes.
PAUL: No, but I saw a light that blinded me, and I heard his voice.
JESUS: You’re a liar!
PAUL: His disciples saw him. They were hiding in an attic with the doors locked and he appeared to them.
JESUS: Liar! He’s a liar! (Turns and walks off)
PAUL: Wait a minute. (Walks after Jesus) I want to talk to you.
JESUS: I was never crucified. I never came back from the dead. I’m a man like everybody else. Why are you telling these lies?
PAUL: What are you talking about?
JESUS: I’m the son of Mary and Joseph. I’m the one who preached in Galilee. I had followers. We marched on Jerusalem. Pilate condemned me and God saved me.
PAUL: No he didn’t.
JESUS: Who are you talking about? Don’t try to tell me what happened, because I know. I live like a man now. I work, eat, have children. I enjoy my life. For the first time I’m enjoying it. Do you understand what I’m saying? So don’t go around telling lies about me or (raising his voice) I’ll tell everybody the truth!
PAUL: Wait just a minute. What’s the matter with you? Look around you. look at all these people. Look at all their faces. Do you see how much they’re suffering? Their only hope is the resurrected Jesus. I don’t care whether you’re Jesus or not. The resurrected Jesus will save the world and that’s what matters.
JESUS: Those are lies. you can’t save the world by lying.
PAUL: I created the truth out of what people needed and what they believed. If I have to crucify you to save the world then I’ll crucify you, and if I have to resurrect you then I’ll do that too whether you like it or not.
JESUS: I won’t let you. I’ll tell everyone the truth.
PAUL (laughs): Go ahead. go on. Tell them now. Who’s going to believe you? You started all this, now you can’t stop it. All those people who believe me will kill you.
JESUS: No that wouldn’t happen.
PAUL; How do you know? You see you don’t know how much people need God. You don’t know how happy he can make them. Happy to do anything. He can make them happy to die and they’ll die. All for the sake of Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth. the son of god. The Messiah. Not you. Not for your sake. (pause) You know I’m glad I met you because now I can forget all about you. My Jesus is much more important and much more powerful.
Thank you. It’s a good thing I met you.
(Paul turns away slowly then walks off briskly, leaving Jesus silent and forlorn.)
For an even more startling, revisionist take on Jesus see Philip Pullman’s novel “The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ” Canongate (2010)