“Captivating, inspiring and deeply moving” is the endorsement offered by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, for Motive Entertainment’s new film, The Young Messiah.
Charles J. Chaput, archbishop of Philadelphia, is similarly enthusiastic. He called it, “a portrait true to biblical faith but without sentimentality … an exceptional movie, engaging from start to finish; a film worth seeing and owning and seeing again.”
And Archbishop Thomas Wenski, of Miami, said of the film, “This presentation of The Young Messiah perhaps opens a door into people’s hearts that otherwise would have been shut because of their fear of God, anger with God or indifference to God.”
The Young Messiah, which opened in theaters yesterday, promises to be one of the best Christian-themed releases during this Lenten season. Steven Greydanus gave it a “thumbs up” in his review at the National Catholic Register, calling it “a smart, moving take on a hidden year in Jesus’ life that both believers and nonbelievers can enjoy.” Steve McEveety, CEO of Mpower and a producer of The Passion of the Christ, has said that it “succeeds beautifully in imagining the mystery.” Praise continues to pour in from pastors and church leaders across America.
The film, directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh and his wife and writing partner, Betsy (The Stoning of Soraya M), imagines a year in the childhood of Jesus, a time about which the Scriptures tell us little. Oh, we know from Luke’s gospel about the infant Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and about his family’s flight into Egypt to escape the evil Herod. But then we don’t see him again until years later, in the Temple at Jerusalem, when he had somehow become separated from his parents — and then not again until he begins his adult ministry at age 30.
But when he was a child, did he understand his divinity? Could he heal the sick, raise the dead and work other miracles?
The Young Messiah asks that question and then shows the child Jesus exercising powers that are unique to God. But the film isn’t the first to consider this possibility: When the seven-year-old Jesus holds a drowned bird in his hands in The Young Messiah and gives him new life, I am reminded of the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas which dates to the second century. In that narrative, Jesus breathed life into inanimate birds his friends had fashioned from clay. In the same story he resurrected a friend who fell from a roof (similar to the boy who trips on an apple and dies in the streets of Alexandria in The Young Messiah).
Must we believe these imaginative tales from Jesus’ boyhood? Of course not — but there is nothing in the Scriptures to prevent us from pondering what it must have meant to be God in the body of a small boy.
Anne Rice imagined Jesus’ boyhood in her 2005 bestseller Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, on which the movie is based. It hints that although Herod the Great was dead, the Holy Family was still threatened by his son, Herod Antipas. The Young Messiah assumes that the younger Herod followed in his father’s footsteps, launching a search for the child Jesus that placed his family in peril once again.
And beyond Herod, there is an otherworldly antagonist, a dark-caped demon who is visible to the Christ Child but not to others in his vicinity. The boy Jesus struggles to understand what this means and seeks to understand his own inexplicable powers. His parents and extended family have shielded him from the truth of his unusual birth, of the visit by the Magi and of the tragic slaughter of the innocents that occurred at the command of Herod the Great. At the Temple he finally hears those stories for the first time.