Thursday, February 22, 2024

Reaction - The Chosen Season 4 Episodes 4-6

 Last weekend I had the opportunity to see The Chosen, Season 4 Episodes 4-6 in the theater. As with Episodes 1-3, I want to offer a mostly spoiler-free reaction, trying to limit my responses to what can be inferred from the trailer and a basic knowledge of the Gospels.


Also as before, you can find my review and analysis series here

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Chosen 2:3 — Matthew 4:24


Just as in Season One, the third episode of
The Chosen’s Season Two is an uncharacteristic aside from the narrative arc of the season as a whole. While in Season One, the third episode focused intensely on Jesus, who had only been seen briefly in the first two episodes, in Season Two, the third episode focuses on the disciples while their Master is otherwise occupied. It addresses one of those questions one almost never thinks to ask, but once asked, seems obvious and compelling: what were the disciples doing when “off camera” in the biblical narrative?

The title of the chapter is a scripture reference, short enough that we can quote it in full:

So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them.

This is the kind of summary account that it is very easy to quickly read past without thinking through what it actually entailed. “Yep, Jesus healed and delivered all kinds of people. Must have been wonderful. I wish I could have been there to see it.” And then we move on to the next story.

What this episode deals with is the logistical nightmare of such a scene—all these people all trying to get Jesus’ attention at once, what the disciples had to do to accommodate all the crowds, and what it was like for them, from all different backgrounds, just getting to know one another, trying to figure out what it all meant.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Chosen 2:2 – I Saw You

Dallas Jenkins, the creator of The Chosen, often relates a story of how he directed The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, which ended up being a box office flop. Formerly viewed as a promising young director, Jenkins found himself out of favor in Hollywood and wondering if he would have a future as a filmmaker at all. He describes the experience as one of the lowest points of his life.

 

He tells that story partly to explain how The Chosen was originally born like a phoenix out of the ashes of his earlier aspirations, but also to explain how a lot of that experience went into his portrayal of Nathanael, who, along with Philip, are two future apostles introduced in this episode.

As always, the imagined backstories of these characters fleshes out what we see in the biblical text. The essentials of the two disciples’ introduction to Jesus is found in John 1:43-51. But as readers of scripture, we’re left with a lot of detail to fill in. Why does Philip seem to follow Jesus so readily? Why does Jesus’ mere mention of Nathanael being under a fig tree bring forth such a response of faith? These are questions that “I Saw You” explores.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Reaction - The Chosen Season 4 Episodes 1-3

Last Sunday I got my chance to see The Chosen Season 4 Episodes 1-3. I want to give my reactions, but I’ll try to avoid any spoilers, so I’m going to restrict my comments to what can reasonably be inferred from the trailer, by anyone familiar with the Gospels. Nonetheless, if you really don’t want to be spoiled at all, you may want to stop reading at the break below.

 
 
Aside—if you came here looking for another installment of my review and analysis series, I’m having to cut back my frequency on those. I’ll try to keep posting one a week, but two a week I can’t manage. If you are reading those, I very much appreciate it.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

The Chosen 2:1 – Thunder

The Chosen Season One ended with Jesus having gathered several disciples and publicly revealing himself as Messiah to Photina, the woman at the well, with clear direction that she should tell others about him. Season Two will largely be occupied by Jesus gathering the rest of the Twelve, whom he will call his Apostles, as well as building up to the climactic point of delivering his Sermon on the Mount.

 

The first episode of the season, “Thunder,” does not telegraph all of this, though. We see the aftermath of Jesus meeting with Photina and his ministry in the Samaritan town of Sychar. It quickly becomes clear that Jesus will not conduct his ministry in a manner that any of his current disciples expect. The process of discipleship does not merely involve gaining new information, but learning a new way of looking at things entirely, and it’s not always easy.

 

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Chosen 1:8 – I Am He

The second half of Season One portrays Jesus beginning his public ministry. From the wedding in Cana, where Jesus’ mother has to talk him into doing a “public miracle” (at least, one that is sure to become public), to the very public healing of the paralytic, to the open invitation of Matthew to become a disciple, and the private, but potentially explosive, invitation of Nicodemus, Jesus has been progressively revealing his ministry to the world. Still, as far as anyone on the outside knows, he is merely a traveling rabbi, one who works miracles, perhaps even a prophet. There are, of course, disciples of John the Baptizer like Andrew who heard John proclaim Jesus as the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and Jesus has tacitly affirmed to his disciples that he is the Messiah, but he has not yet publicly revealed himself as such. He is inching ever closer, however, and as he does, his disciples are both excited and worried—excited because it’s through this public ministry that they expect all their hopes to be realized, but worried because it comes with opposition and potential danger from both the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman authorities.

This episode marks the point at which Jesus clearly reveals himself as the Messiah, and invites the person he’s speaking with to tell others. As we might expect by this point, the person he reveals himself to seems an unlikely candidate in a number of ways. Jesus continues to subvert ordinary notions of status and worthiness. And as The Chosen so frequently does, we are presented with a fully fleshed-out picture of what the life of the “woman at the well” may have been like, why she may have been so reluctant to receive Jesus’ message, and why she was so overjoyed when she finally did receive it.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Chosen 1:7 – Invitations

As the first season of The Chosen nears its end, the separate storylines begin to interconnect. The four main plots have largely developed in two sets of two: Matthew’s story is intertwined with that of Simon and Andrew, and Mary Magdalene’s story is connected with that of Nicodemus. Although all of the main characters were finally brought together in the crowd scene of the healing of the paralytic, Nicodemus has never actually met Matthew at all. Nonetheless, this episode, “Invitations,” draws unexpected parallels between the outcast tax collector and the distinguished Pharisee. We have already seen how both of their worldviews—the pragmatic secular and the traditional religious—have been shaken by seeing evidence of Jesus’ miracle-working power, but this unexpected similarity is about to become much more clearly delineated.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Chosen 1:6 – Indescribable Compassion

The point at which any complex story becomes really exciting is when plot threads that have been cast out in different directions begin to turn and coalesce again. I love “Indescribable Compassion” largely because so many different storylines come together at the episode’s climactic point. So far, Simon, Andrew, and Mary Magdalene have begun following Jesus, but don’t really know what that’s going to look like yet. Matthew is mystified by the miraculous catch of fish that he witnessed, as is Nicodemus by Mary’s transformation, and both are trying to figure out who the mysterious man at the heart of these miracles is. All of these people, and more, will come together in one pivotal scene that will define who they are and in what direction they are going.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Chosen 1:5 – The Wedding Gift

As The Chosen enters the second half of its first season, four main plotlines have been established: Simon and Andrew have both become disciples of Jesus, after the miraculous catch of fish. The catch was witnessed by Mary Magdalene, who is following Jesus constantly at this point, and by Matthew, who was spying on Simon for Quintus and recognizes that a miracle has happened, even if his logical mind can’t comprehend it. Nicodemus, meanwhile, is interviewing John the Baptizer, who is being held in Roman custody, in order to find out who might have accomplished Mary Magdalene’s deliverance.

So at this point, we viewers want to see how Mary, Simon, and Andrew’s discipleship progresses, how Matthew becomes a follower of Jesus, and how Nicodemus resolves his quest and ends up meeting with Jesus as we see recorded in John chapter 3. This all needs to be presented in the context of Jesus’ early ministry, and certain events that happen during this time period need to be shown. The first of these is the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The Chosen 1:4 – The Rock on Which It Is Built

As a crowd-funded independent project, The Chosen grew in fits and starts. The original funding was only sufficient for four episodes, and therefore episode four had to land on a climactic point. “The Rock On Which It Is Built” does not disappoint. In this episode, we return to the main plotlines, and just as Episode 1 brought Mary Magdalene from demonic possession and suicidal ideation to deliverance, this episode brings Simon Peter from desperation and willingness to betray his countrymen to restoration and a call to a higher purpose. The process of getting there, though, is not at all easy, and The Chosen does something here that it does often and well: take a simple miracle story in the Gospels and invest it with emotional meaning and impact.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Chosen 1:3 – Jesus Loves the Little Children

 After two episodes where Jesus himself plays only a minor, but pivotal, role, we finally have one that focuses strongly on Jesus himself. “Jesus Loves the Little Children” is what is known in the trade as a “bottle episode,” one that is set primarily in one location and has a limited number of main cast members. It sits apart from the primary action of the season and functions as an aside where a particular character can be developed. In this episode, the main plotlines involving Mary Magdalene, Simon and Andrew, Matthew, and Nicodemus all take a brief hiatus while we get some deeper insight into Jesus himself.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Chosen 1:2 – Shabbat

Episode 2, “Shabbat,” does not have a strong episode arc; none of the stories have a conclusive resolution, as did Mary’s story in the first episode, “I Have Called You by Name.” For the most part, each of the four main plotlines continues to build, and we get more insight into each of the characters. But the episode is bookended by a Shabbat (sabbath) observance, first in the time of Solomon, and then nearly a millennium later in the time of Jesus. We see the long history and tradition of the Jewish people, the Shabbat observances punctuating the weekly routine of an entire people down through the centuries.

This concern for meticulous observance of Shabbat not only provides structure and a unified theme for this episode, but also sets the stage for a central point of controversy throughout Jesus’ ministry, and thus the series. Jesus is frequently perceived as profaning Shabbat by performing miracles such as healing on that day, and is confronted numerous times in Scripture by the Pharisees on this point (e.g., Mark 2:24, 3:2; Luke 13:4; John 5:16). What this episode does, among other things, is portray how important the Shabbat observance is to this people.

We already saw in the first episode how fishing on Shabbat is considered a very serious violation (serious enough that Rabbi Jason Sobel, a messianic Jewish consultant for the series, thinks that it simply would never have happened) which then provides a motivating force behind Simon’s plot line. In this episode, we see how the same issue continues to develop with Simon, how Mary’s transformation is portrayed through Shabbat, what the sabbath observance has become for Nicodemus’s social circle, and how it illustrates Matthew’s alienation from his people.

Sunday, January 07, 2024

The Chosen 1:1 – I Have Called You by Name

"Lilith" being called Mary by Jesus

I’ve heard that many people have started The Chosen but quit after an episode or two because they couldn’t keep track of what was going on. In some cases, this might be because they were expecting straightforward Bible stories that they already knew, which is not what you get in this show, but like many other bingeworthy shows, The Chosen has many well-developed characters and complicated, interrelated storylines, and the first few episodes set up a lot of situations that will pay off later. There are four different plot lines that are being initiated, only one of which comes to a meaningful resolution in this episode.

This episode requires a significant recap prior to delving into analysis; feel free to jump forward to the next break if you’re already fully familiar with the plot details.

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Reflecting on The Chosen: A Review and Interpretation Series

I’m going to embark on a review series on The Chosen. For anyone who happens across this page and doesn’t know what The Chosen is—I don’t know why you would; this website has been defunct for a while—The Chosen is an independently produced series on the life of Jesus and his disciples, specifically from the disciples’ point of view.* It portrays a number of passages in scripture, but its primary purpose is not just to retell Bible stories. It fleshes out Jesus’ disciples, and his opponents, with imagined backstories, to transform the narratives from simple morality tales to more gripping drama. We become invested in the stories of Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, Nicodemus; we care about them as people, rather than seeing them as names without further information.