- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

What if Jesus Christ showed up in the 21st century? What would he look like? What would he do?

Michael Belk, a Florida fashion photographer turned biblical chronicler, decided to find out. He chose some of the more intriguing events in Jesus’ life, hired 100 Italians to model the parts, then brought them all to Sassi di Matera, the ancient Italian village best known as the shooting location for Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ.”

The result is the 108-page photo book “Journeys with the Messiah.”

Central to the casting was Sergio Muniz, the Italian actor who plays Jesus. He is shown in several provocative photos: going the “second mile” down a country road with a Nazi soldier, standing next to a circle of poker players, cradling the head of a devastated stockbroker in his lap, and preaching simplicity to a well-dressed Italian family in a Ferrari sports car.

Ancient and modern are juxtaposed. In one photo, a laughing Jesus in first-century robe and sandals sits at a street cafe, a cup of espresso on the table in front of him while a well-dressed man in an expensive suit sneaks away with several loaves of bread. The point of the photo comes from the Matthew 6:11 passage about trusting God for one’s daily bread instead of hoarding it.

Another shows Jesus seated at a table graced with fine china and crystalware. Seated next to people in first-century garb, he appears to be telling a joke or story. Several observers in ball gowns and tuxedos listen in.

The idea of the book, along with an affiliated Web site (www.thejourneysproject.com) and DVD, is to bring home the relevance of a 2,000-year-old message.

“Image is everything,” Mr. Belk says. “I want to make people stop and say, ‘What is going on here?’ ”

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