"Mary, Mother of Jesus" prime time fiasco

Religion in the News

By RICHARD N. OSTLING AP Religion Writer
Friday November 12 12:02 AM ET

NEW YORK (AP) - Never underestimate the profit potential in the New Testament. Network TV doesn't. In search of good sweeps ratings, NBC is running its made-for-TV movie ``Mary: Mother of Jesus'' on Sunday night, rather than waiting for seasonal timing at Christmas.

CBS is likewise holding its ``Jesus'' mini-series, now shooting in Morocco and Malta, for the May sweeps period instead of Easter. ABC, however, plans Easter scheduling for ``The Miracle Maker,'' its unconventional retelling of Jesus' life through ``claymation'' and computerized special effects.

Rarely if ever have all three major networks planned New Testament epics in the same season. No doubt they are responding to the success of angel shows and religious books and, beyond that, to the vague spiritual search that seems to engage so many Americans.

It's an intriguing moment in pop culture. But judging from NBC's Mary, commercialism can be a mixed blessing in terms of the substance of the Bible. Filmed in Hungary, produced by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and son Bobby, the reverential show largely follows the scriptural story line. But there are curious exceptions.

``While dramatic license has been taken, we believe this film reflects the spirit and historical significance of the biblical story,'' says a disclaimer as the show starts. License is necessary because the Gospels report very little about Mary except for the narratives in Matthew and Luke about Jesus' birth.

Some of the TV padding is intended to turn Mary, portrayed by Pernilla August, into a feminist figure. In the Middle Ages, says Mrs. Shriver, ``she was seen as beautiful but rather placid and not very exciting.''

However, she said, ``I think she's a role model for young people.''

Early in the program, the feminist Mary boldly rushes forth to plead with soldiers and save the life of an anti-Roman zealot. It's a harmless bit of imagination to convey a 20th century concept of what she might have been like.

More problematic are instances where Albert Ross' script borrows what the Bible records about Jesus and plunks it into the life of Mary.

In the Gospel according to Albert, Mary intervenes to stop a group stoning a woman to death for committing adultery. This, of course, is taken from the passage in John 8:3-11 where Jesus confronts a mob to save the life of an adulterous woman. It's a heavy-handed reminder of the plight Mary herself faced as an unwed mother through an act of God.

Another oddity is a scene where Mary tells the young Jesus a bedtime story. Guess what? It's the story of the Good Samaritan, one of the most beloved of the parables that Scripture attributes to Jesus (Luke 10:29-37).

Obviously Mary's teaching would have shaped the mind and heart of her young son, an intriguing point that we don't often think much about. But why should Mary steal some of Jesus' best lines?

The tendency to magnify Mary continues when John the Baptist initiates Jesus (Christian Bale). Mary is baptized right afterward, and her example inspires Mary Magdalene to repent and follow God. When Jesus is crucified, the grieving Mary seems to take command.

After Jesus is risen from the grave, the apostle John tells Mary, ``Your work is finished.'' Mary replies, ``Our work has just begun.'' She proceeds to give the apostles marching orders reminiscent of Jesus' ``Great Commission'' to go into the world with his message.

In the whole sequence, St. Peter is ignored, even though the Bible portrays him as the leading apostle and Catholicism holds him to be the first pope. What would Pope John Paul II, Peter's current successor, say?

Speaking of Catholicism, there's one sly reference to the church's distinct teachings on Mariology. Mary's mother Anna (who is named in a later apocryphal book but not the Bible) fondly tells her daughter she's flawless: ``If there's someone better, I'd like to meet them. I've never known you to do a wrong thing in your life.''

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, mandated by Pope Pius XI in 1854, holds that Mary was born without the taint of original sin and lived a sinless life, just like Jesus. Protestants reject the idea.

Because of this and other key differences with Catholicism, Protestants have neglected Mary. ``I think that's unfortunate,'' says the Rev. Gerhard Krodel, retired dean of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pa. ``Luther himself wrote rather movingly about Mary,'' he notes.

But thanks to ecumenical contacts, there's been more Protestant awareness this past generation, Krodel says. He personally thinks the figure of Mary is important in teaching fellow Protestants about ``the sacredness of life, which begins in the womb,'' and in giving all Christians a prime example of service to God.

Mary's only extended scriptural utterance is the Magnificat of Luke 1:46-55: ``My soul magnifies the Lord ... He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree...'' The TV Mary speaks the words only as a voice-over during the closing credits.

The Magnificat is stated in past tense but it's ``a prophetic past'' in which ``the meaning points to the future,'' says Krodel. ``God's decision, made through Mary and Jesus, is the pledge of the future overturning of our present values.''


I saw this film and I must say it is VERY obvious to me and no doubt the entire viewing audience that the Church of Rome was very influential in the writing of this script. What a pack of CoNfUsIoN!

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