OPINION

Opinion: 'Ben-Hur' will make you want to be a better person

Actors Rodrigo Santoro and Jack Huston on August 2, 2016 at Hotel Unique in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Actors Rodrigo Santoro and Jack Huston on August 2, 2016 at Hotel Unique in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (2016 Getty Images)

These days it seems that most movies are made solely to push boundaries, appeal to the most vulgar tastes and glorify the basest impulses. Movies might be entertaining, but you won’t leave feeling elevated, and you might even feel ashamed you brought your teenagers to see them.

How amazing in this day and age to leave a movie filled with high aspirations and resolutions: To love better, forgive more promptly, show greater courage, live more generously. 

- Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie

This summer, thankfully, you can take them to see Ben-Hur. This modern retelling of the wildly popular 1959 film is thrilling and beautifully made. The chariot racing and naval battle scenes are so vividly intense and realistic that they will keep the most jaded teenage boy on the edge of his seat. (I had to watch parts of them through my fingers.) The story line builds slowly as it develops the complicated plot of friendship, romance, and betrayal, and speeds up frantically to the exciting climax.

And the best part, the most wonderful, amazing part? You will want to be a better person when you leave the theater.

The story takes place in Jerusalem, during the time of Christ. Judah Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince whose Roman foster brother Messala returns home after a long absence as commander of a Roman legion. Tensions in Jerusalem are high, as the oppressed Jews mount small but violent insurrections against their occupiers. Judah takes in an injured revolutionary, Dismas, who shoots an arrow at a Roman commander from the Ben-Hur house. Although Messala knows Judah is innocent, in his fury and pride he sends Judah to the Roman galleys for life and imprisons his mother and sister.

Judah suffers horrors, chained day and night to an oar in the fetid warship, whipped and abused for years, with death the only possibility for deliverance. When a violent shipwreck frees him, his only thought, understandably, is revenge.

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This is when the story turns. Something amazing has been going on in Jerusalem. There is a new spirit abroad, the spirit of radical forgiveness. The old reasonableness of an eye for an eye, of love your friends and hate your enemies, is being replaced. Judah meets a better, higher, purer way of being when he watches Christ’s crucifixion: a vile offense cancelled out by the Savior’s perfect mercy. 

The choice becomes clear for Judah: angry revenge and the cycle of perpetual hate and violence, or the mercy that restores brotherhood and peace.

Ben-Hur shows us how the Christian message came upon the ancient world like a thunderclap. It arrived powerfully in a time when slavery, blood-sport, and tyranny were the natural accompaniments of a culture that had never heard of human dignity. It was a culture that had never considered the idea that giving might be better than receiving and that serving others might be more glorious than being served. It was a culture that had never been taught that joy lies on the other side of sacrifice. These ideas swept through the minds of men and women, changing them, and changing the history of the world forever.

These concepts are not news to us, 2000 years later. But we need to be reminded. Pope Francis, who personally blessed the work of the actor that plays Jesus in the film, named this year the Jubilee of Mercy for exactly that reason. 

Mercy, that binds wounds, rebuilds relationships, and joins hearts even across vast chasms, is needed more today than ever. 

We will likely never know betrayal like Judah’s. All the same we are all beset: by the ungrateful child, bullying co-worker, lying friend, cheating spouse. Betrayed and hurt, by big or little things, we also can choose the better way—the Christian way. 

How amazing in this day and age to leave a movie filled with high aspirations and resolutions: To love better, forgive more promptly, show greater courage, live more generously. 

And just as importantly: Although we may never have been as wicked as Messala, we have also done unforgivable things, and Ben-Hur makes us suspect that we can also be forgiven. 

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie specializes in radiology in the Miami area and serves on the advisory board for The Catholic Association.

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