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Review of film, “A Polite Bribe”

November 26, 2014

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A few days ago I saw the film A Polite Bribe: An Apostle’s Final Bid.  A few weeks ago I had here reviewed the book, A Polite Bribe, which covers the same basic subject, by the same author and director, Robert Orlando.

Both are focused on Paul and the other Apostles and leaders in Jerusalem.  Not just historically but in terms of the many-years-long conflicts and tensions between them… the story of Paul’s core mission and passion.  That story’s final chapter is unexpected, even disturbing, as the film depicts in words, paintings and visual effects… a “surprise” even to many Bible readers.

Why is the real nature of Paul’s somewhat murky but clearly severe conflict with James and also with Peter and the other Jesus-followers in Jerusalem a surprise to so many Christians? (This often includes pastors and priests.) A Polite Bribe lays out part of the answer to this in just what it does that is different than the traditional approach: It traces Paul’s interactions with the Jerusalem leaders through his letters.  With this, it tracks a special long-term project based on his desire to stay in their good graces and have his mission validated.

That project is the collection he was building up for years through the generous giving of his mission congregations… for “the poor” in Jerusalem (a double-meaning term designating either the believers themselves or the needy among them).  The film builds and builds, with viewers knowing there is trouble to come, to the bloody climax in Jerusalem.  Paul attempts to deliver the large collection to James and the Jewish Christians in the holy city.  Will they receive it? Will his mission be validated or will he have “run in vain”?

Most people know that Paul was not killed in the process (tradition says that happened in Rome), but we often forget that he here had another close brush with death.  And who was responsible?

Paul himself, given his own sense of foreboding about the venture, plus being warned and begged not to go? James, in that he undoubtedly had a good sense of the grave danger to Paul, yet sent him into the Temple on a ritual observance to prove that he was still “living in obedience to the law” (Acts 21:24, NIV)? Jewish believers who may have been among those distraught by reports (which may well have been pretty accurate) as to what Paul was teaching to pagans and Jews… perhaps even among the instigators of the riot attacking Paul?

This all comes toward the end of a nearly hour-and-a-half film.  Paul’s life has been reviewed and the central thrust of his mission to unify Jews and Gentiles in the Kingdom of God under Christ as universal savior described.  But the movie, in documentary style, is no session on theology.  Theology is mostly kept on the sideline.  This is the story of what was driving Paul and why he came into ongoing conflict with the Jerusalem leaders.  The reasons have as much or more to do with ethnic loyalties and social factors as with theology.  This is what we tend to miss….  Our education is mostly through churches, directly or indirectly, and thus mostly about theology with only a little setting of history or social conditions.

That is one reason I believe churched people will enjoy this film although much of it may be disturbing. Disturbing especially to those who have become locked into traditional views that whitewash the conflicts and the messier side of the birth of Christianity.  (The movie also shows how this began with “Luke” himself, as author of Acts, from whom we know at least something of what must have really happened at this critical juncture.) In his later years, Paul sought to gain approval for “his” gospel and unifying mission from those who had personally been with Jesus and who retained a heavily Jewish way of interpreting what Jesus’ work had been.  They were still the undisputed authorities in the new sect which as yet was not separated from Judaism. Nor was it called Christianity.

Through elements I’ve only touched on, the movie makes the case for calling Paul’s collection a kind of bribe, though a “polite” or subtle one, agreed to on both ends in advance.  To better understand why there was occasion, again on both sides, for at the least a reciprocal gift I recommend you get the DVD of the movie.  Go to the “APoliteBribe.com” website here and get a copy of the book or movie or both, plus check where screenings are planned or explore the related videos.  The writer/director, Orlando, may be at a nearby screening, particularly at a church or university, to personally run a question and answer time and sign your book.

The screening I attended was at a church…. The thoughtful crowd at Pilgrim United Church of Christ, Carlsbad, had a good number of questions and comments.  Virtually everyone seemed to be impressed one way or another with the film – its message and emotional impact.  Not only does it help us see the realistic picture of a period of high religious drama around the birth of a new faith, it also humanizes Paul. We can feel the intensity and grit of the single person who most influenced the twenty-centuries-long course of what Jesus had set in motion.

Once more, you can obtain the DVD here.

If you have read the book or seen the movie, we welcome your comments!

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