Me and Jesus on I-95

I was driving up I-95 on the way to teach my New Testament class, ready to expound all manner of secular clap-trap, when I felt Jesus’ love in such a powerful way that I wept. Really wept. And I never, ever cry, so this was both a strange and a happy event.

In my academic life I am compelled to teach the Jesus of scholarship, one full of such doubt-inducers as the Messianic Secret, late Gospels, and conniving Christian scribes. This is not a cognitive dissonancer for me: I actually believe in the historical method and really have no interest in a fake Jesus. If I am to commit my life to something, I want to know who or what that something is. In this way, scholarship keeps me honest. Still, the “real Jesus” remains almost a phantasm, out of the reach of even our best theology and philology. Enter faith, that infuriating, elusive, but wonderful thing.

As I drove up the freeway, I was listening to the soundtrack from The Passion of the Christ. There’s a scene in the film (and I was listening to the corresponding music) that is really beautifully done. Jesus arrives on Calvary’s hill and is thrown to the floor. We are dreading what is about to happen as the nails and cross are readied, but the scene gently flash-backs to another, happier hill, where Jesus (clean and handsome, not scarred and bloody) is giving the Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘˜hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”

Here is the sublimest distillation of Jesus’ ethic and it is sweet indeed. The movie then brings us back to Calvary and Jesus’ words face their final, awful test. Will he love his enemies and pray for those who gleefully torture him?

He is nailed to the cross.

“Forgive them father, forgive them.”

No scene in religious history has anything like the impact on me that this one does, and so somewhere between Baltimore and Bel Air I wept as I considered it, my heart racing with the love of this Jesus, that Great God who descended below all things and showed us how to love and forgive. What this says about the real Jesus of Nazereth I do not know and I cannot teach it, but I do know that there is a truth in that magnificent scene that exalts my spirit and makes me very happy.


  1. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again — I love the poetic side of Ronan. Thanks for this, it has been such a meaningful thing for me to read today.

  2. Thanks, Kris. It’s my Mr. Hyde. I want to add too that even though I stand all amazed at Jesus’ love, I don’t always exude it. But on I-95, my own sins — for that brief but profound moment — no longer mattered.

  3. Enter faith, that infuriating, elusive, but wonderful thing.


    My favorite section of the soundtrack isn’t actually in the movie or on the soundtrack :) It’s the music from one of the first previews, a Peter Gabriel song without words called “Running to the Rain.” He apparently wrote it for the movie “Rabbit Proof Fence” where it appears on the soundtrack.

  4. Ronan, thank you. This is beautiful.

    You’ve made me almost ready to see the Passion. DH really wants to and I do too, sort of, but I don’t deal very well with lots of violence, so I’ve held off. But this IS what it’s all about, isn’t it.

  5. Ed Snow says:

    Amen, Ronan, Amen. Rave on John Donne, Rave on.

  6. Elisabeth says:

    Thanks for this post, Ronan. I haven’t seen the movie, but what a perfect example of the commandment to love our enemies. The enemies of Jesus murdered Him, but He loved them and forgave them as he was tortured and dying. I’m with you, no matter what else we know about Jesus, this example is so incredibly powerful.

  7. Mark IV says:

    Well done, Ronan, and thank you.

    Sometimes (3-4 times a year) I drive that stretch between Baltimore and Bel Air and usually I get punchy and short-tempered with the traffic. Now I have a reason remember it as a sacred place.

  8. Ronan, shame on you, that movie is rated R! Besides, we worship a living Christ, so we don’t focus on his death!

    Just kidding…wonderful post.

  9. Thanks, everyone.

  10. Here, here! I find it fascinating the odd moments where I am struck with such poignancies. In the car, on a walk, sometimes at work…

  11. Beautiful Ronan. Thanks.

  12. Good job, Ronan, thanks.

  13. Somebody kidnapped Ronan!

    Just kidding. Loved it, man. Very powerful. Thanks for sharing.

  14. That is a great moment in the film. Thanks for this wonderful post.

    One of my favorite parts of the movie is one that isn’t even in the scriptures. When he’s carrying the cross through the town, after having been scourged, and stumbles and falls, and Mary is watching from a nearby alley. There is a flashback to him as a child falling and her rushing over to help him. She runs over to help him this time, but he hoists up the cross again and says, “Mother, see. I make all things new.”

  15. Ronan, thank you. Sometimes I find Christ to be this elusive concept that comes in and out of my grasp, then the powerful moments happen, and everything comes into focus. I think it is very profound that part of our religion encourages us to share, so those who are suffering from an low point in spirituality can somehow find comfort through the experiences of others.

  16. Susan M – that is one of my favourite parts of the movie too. The music is beautiful at that part too. It’s a wonderful thing that music can move us the way it does.

  17. I remember not three months ago when NBC aired its series premiere of “The Book of Daniel” and some Christians took offense at the idea of portraying Jesus riding alongside the fictional Episcopal priest in the car, being as physically present to him as a passenger while Daniel prayed. Such a furor. Hmm, yet this seems to be not that far outside the realm of the way that actual people (say, Ronan, or myself) EXPERIENCE Jesus now and then, sometimes when we least expect it, and often when we didn’t know we most needed it.

  18. I’ve enjoyed this post as well.

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