A couple of days ago I posted on Facebook that I thought the new crowd sourced TV show, “The Chosen” was incredible. They state that for a mere $100 million USD they could film and complete all 8 seasons they hope to do. I really pray they are able to meet this measly amount because the content of this show is fantastic! One of my friends wondered why I thought this show was so great. I haven’t responded yet because I wanted to reflect and try to discern my attraction for this show and this portrayal of Jesus. Here are a few of the reasons I came up with and I’ll keep them short because there were SO MANY great aspects of this show…
- Context. As a pastor who has been preaching almost every week, I do a lot of studying about the passage and its context. Who was it written to? How would the original hearers understand and apply what was being said? What was happening historically at the time? What were the customs surrounding the message and how might they be affected? They say a sermon is like an iceberg — less than 10% of the effort put into it is actually seen. This TV show is like that. They have put a TON of effort into studying the context of Jesus, his disciples, what was being said and how it was being heard and how radical of a message it was! How they knit conversations together and brought light to their impact can really stir our hearts and minds to dive deeper into what we THINK we know about the bible and have read there.
- Culture. Part of context is understanding the culture and they have really done an incredible job researching and trying to communicate the culture of the day. How would we know what sabbath looked like and how it was practiced? Its one thing to read about it but to see it in action is very cool. We know the Jews were being ruled over by the Romans and we know they were being heavily taxed but how did that translate into the community and what were the repercussions of that? To hear and see and feel the weight of the Roman occupancy on screen really adds dimension to what we might gloss over in our readings of the biblical story. The writers explain cultural practices in such a way that we can enter in and better understand what is happening without it feeling like they are “dumbing it down” and we are invited in seamlessly into the story. A great example of this is the wedding where Jesus turns the water into wine. So many subtle touches of what it would have looked like and how the shortage of wine was a huge societal embarrassment.
- Filling in the blanks. In the bible we have only the smallest, most minute amount of information about Jesus and what his ministry would have looked like. I remember as a child wondering, “Yes but how did he live? Where did he sleep? How did he eat? How did they travel together? How could they afford it?” That was me as a child? As an adult I had even more pragmatic questions like, “How did this ministry affect the marriages of the disciples who followed Jesus? How would the group have reacted to a tax collector suddenly being a part of them? How do the women fit into the context of a travelling group because we are told there were women who not only learned from Jesus but contributed to his ministry and were close friends?” YES, I understand there was creative license taken by the writers but they did a marvellous job of having it make sense. It is rational and well thought out. I love that Nicodemus is a main character in the mix because we know historically he was a disciple of Jesus caught in the religion and politics of the day.
- Relationships. I can read the passages of Jesus calling his disciples but often can forget how tight knit a community he lived in. People knew each other’s business and knew OF each other. I love how they interact and how Jesus treats people who are the lowly, rejected, and cast-aways. I love the interactions between the disciples struggling to figure out how to live and work alongside of each other in a closer context. Thinking of parents and how they would have felt seeing their children (who were meant to take over their business in the future) leaving everything behind to follow this rebel rabbi really has caused me to think as I see it playing out on the screen. How would Nicodemus have approached Jesus and struggled with what following Jesus would have meant for his life and marriage?
- Creative license. As I previously mentioned, there has been some creative license taken, in fact, at the very beginning they put a disclaimer at the beginning stating some of the events have been modified or shifted on the timeline of story telling. My first thought when I read that was, “This should be interesting.” At the end my thought was, “That was tastefully done and well thought out and they captured the coming of the Kingdom of God and the Messiah so well that any license they took was well handled.” But CAN THEY DO THAT?! Well, think of the Gospels and how they are written. I just purchased a book called “A Harmony Of The Gospels” where they are laid out in columns beside each other to compare the details. Some gospels are missing stories, others have stories unique only to their accounting, some highlight different details BUT ALL OF THEM do so in order to share the Gospel in a particular way to reach a particular reader. I know this TV show is NOT scripture but they do follow a historical practice of telling about Jesus in a way that would effectively reach the listener and, in my humble opinion, they have honoured God in how they have done this.
- Script-writing and Story-telling. Christian films over the years have proven that there can never be enough poorly conceived stories filled with bad dialogue and cringe-worthy cliches. I know that sounds harsh but I truly believe it has been earned and is true. I can hear some of you upset with me writing this and already you have on the tip of your tongues examples to prove me wrong. And, I humbly agree, there have been a few movies over of the years that have come out that have not been too bad — I consider those outliers. The script-writing in The Chosen I found to be delightful. It was intelligent, free from cliches and represented real dialogues that people would/could have. The story-telling was well interwoven and thought through intelligently building a plot-line that made sense. There must be a HUGE storyboard somewhere where they are mapping out the Gospels and side-stories to intersect. Watching this show truly was an adventure in seeing what was happening on screen while my heart and mind searched what I knew of scriptures wondering how on earth they were ever going to bring the two together. Delightful! I also liked how they introduced Jesus teaching people recognizing that he would have been teaching the people the same things he was teaching the disciples over and over again. What Jesus taught from a boat he would have taught from a hill, from a chair in a home, along the road while he walked. He was beating the drum of the Kingdom of God over and over and over again. I loved that they not only thought of that but put it into the story-lines to help expand our understanding of what it would have been like to hear Jesus teach to multiple groups in multiple places. His words would have been so challenging that a one time listen would not have been enough to even begin to understand because it was such a different perspective.
- Jesus. I know it is very challenging to portray Jesus on film. There have been many interpretations over the years of what he looked like and how he acted. After we finished watching all 8 episodes we looked at the extras and found an interview between the director and the actor who portrays Jesus. They discussed how he went about trying to act out Christ in ways he sensed Christ would be, how Christ would speak, how Christ would respond to people. In this discussion the actor explained that The Chosen has a unique edge in how they can portray Christ because it is being done in a series that can breath instead of a movie where there is a time crunch. Upon reflection, I can see how this is very true. We can see the humour and humanity of Jesus. We can see how he takes time for people — that he had to walk everywhere. We get to see his pacing of life and the challenges he faced with the disciples. We get to see his delight when the Father answers his requests for miracles to take place and people are being restored, finding hope and experiencing the love of God. Most of all, we get to see his consistent compassion, care and love for a people he saw as “sheep without a shepherd.” Upon writing this, I feel it might even be unfair to compare Jesus in The Chosen with others in movies because of the unique opportunity this brings to breath life into the portrayal of Christ. Even though we aren’t seeing a show in Hebrew with English subtitles we certainly aren’t seeing the Swedish Viking Jesus speaking in an English accent. Fantastic. Simply fantastic. Of course there is a huge danger I see with this. As this portrayal of Jesus warms our hearts and even has us grow in our love of what Jesus could have looked like and how he could have ministered, it means that the suffering of this Jesus could strike an even deeper emotional chord in us than ever before when they portray the crucifixion of Christ. In fact, to have seen such a loving, caring Jesus only creates a more extreme contrast to the hate and sin that puts him on a cross. Part of me is dreading seeing that while the other part anticipates how great the love of God will powerfully shine through.
You may be wondering if there is anything I did NOT like? Not really. Anything I would point to would surely be picky. For example, the biggest weakness for me in the show are the Roman soldiers. I like that they included a Germanic soldier in the cast as the Romans did absorb and conscript their defeated into their army (for numerous strategic reasons). BUT, when I think of Roman soldiers I think of guys that would have looked at the MMA and sneered. I imagine them as being tanned from hours out in the hot eastern sun. I imagine them muscular and hardened from hours upon hours of hard training to be the best fighting machines of their time. I imagine their uniforms to be in good condition but made of hardy materials that look battle ready. Instead, I find these soldiers to be pasty, skinny and their uniforms to be cheap looking…but again, this is pickiness on my part and most likely the influence of Hollywood on my imagination. I really liked the visual of the soldiers in The Passion Of The Christ and wished they would have followed that a bit more closely. That being said, please hear me in this, what they did with the budget they had is INCREDIBLE! The Passion Of The Christ was made for $30 million USD and added $15 Million USD on top of that for advertising. It was 2 hours and 7 minutes long. The Chosen filmed for $10 million USD and did 8 episodes that I’m thinking worked out to 6 hours on screen time. That is impressive. VERY impressive in my humble opinion.
There are so many other things that come to my mind about what I loved about this show. Is it perfect? No. But as a pastor who cringes whenever I hear of an upcoming release of Bible on film, it was refreshing and a delightful journey that I hope continues for 7 more seasons. I believe God was honoured by how His love was portrayed on screen and the viewers were honoured by the intelligent and interesting crafting of the story of the life of the Messiah. I pray this show would bless people and draw people to Christ. When I think of the timing of this release plus the social restrictions the world is experiencing I have to marvel and the timing of God for the Gospel to go out. I find myself praying that when we emerge from COVID, there will be a great harvest of believers seeking to grow as disciples because as they were locked down they sought out hope and God provided Good News for them in multiple formats — one of which I pray has been The Chosen. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and opinions. I pray you are blessed.
[NOTE: This is a first draft of my thoughts so I may update and polish this further in the future ?]