The new series depicts Jesus as the kind of friend for whom you uproot your whole life.
“What kind of man makes a guy like Peter leave everything behind?” I’ve asked this question for years, dissatisfied by the weak or dull or stoic depictions of Jesus I’ve seen in art and film. What kind of man convinces a snob like Nathaniel, a bully like Zacchaeus, a practical woman like Martha to love him unreservedly? Because when we meet that Jesus, it changes everything. Christianity becomes less an ideology and more a wild adventure, a love affair.
That’s the Jesus I see in The Chosen, a new TV show designed to introduce people to Jesus and his followers through captivating storytelling. It’s not the Bible put on the screen, it’s Biblical fiction, full of speculation and backstories and imaginative character development. And the result is a show that depicts Jesus just as I’ve always imagined him.
This is a Jesus who laughs, a Jesus who teases, a Jesus who goes looking for the lost and delights in finding them. This is no formal, distant master, but the kind of friend for whom you uproot your whole life. This is the Jesus I love.
I find myself longing for him renewedly each episode. When he says Mary Magdalene’s name, when he winks at Barnaby, when he spends time with the children, I look at him and see the God who calls me by name. This Jesus who teases but whose eyes glow with pride when he watches me stumble through something I really ought to be better at by now. This Jesus who causes those who love him to lose themselves staring at him, wondering what they could possibly have done to deserve him.
At a time when the Eucharist is so far, it’s a great consolation to be able to draw near to Jesus in a new way, to be pulled back to his presence in Scripture by a bingeworthy show that always points beyond itself.
And as we get to know Jesus, we see the others come alive, too.
Take Simon Peter. I must admit, I hate him in this show—in all the right ways. He’s arrogant and impetuous, always formulating his own plans without regard for Jesus’ intentions. And though I’ve criticized Peter for years, he never bothered me quite so much before. So I took it to prayer and realized that the things about Peter that make me crazy are the exact things that I’m inclined to do.
But I watch how Jesus loves him and am reminded that he loves me, even in my brokenness. At one point, speaking to Peter’s wife, Jesus smiles and says, “Normal Simon is difficult enough, you think I want to travel with a worried Simon?” Peter, you can see, is a lot to handle, but Jesus loves him just the same. Just like me.
The show’s treatment of Nicodemus is remarkable, not least because it shows the heart of a true Pharisee, a man for whom the Law was the way to God, not a chain to bind the people. Nicodemus loves the Lord, he longs for the coming of the Messiah, but he’s afraid of all he might lose. When we see his heart break as he allows Jesus to walk away, we sympathize—and wonder how often we’ve turned our backs on Jesus with far less sorrow.
There’s Andrew, who’s so sweet and earnest, whose eager obedience is tremendously convicting. There’s Matthew, who seems to be on the autism spectrum and struggles with everything except following when he’s called. There’s Mary Magdalene, whose whole heart belongs to the one who called her by name out of darkness into his marvelous light. Every time a new disciple leaves everything to follow Jesus, I can’t help it—I begin to cheer.
And as you watch the disciples’ excitement and uncertainty and fear and confusion and delight, you hear these old stories for the first time. And you remember that this really is worth everything.
The Chosen is produced and directed primarily by Evangelicals, but they’re so concerned about being respectful to Catholic beliefs that they’ve brought in a priest to consult on the project. I haven’t seen anything a Catholic needs to be concerned about. Certainly, there are points of interpretation that any Christian might disagree with; perhaps you always imagined Matthew being powerful and commanding, or perhaps you feel convinced of the tradition identifying Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany, or perhaps you wanted Mary to be more regal and striking. Let your reaction drive you back to Scripture to discover what the word of God really says.
But above all, look at the face of Jesus. Ask yourself if you’ve let him love you the way he loves Mary Magdalene, the leper, Andrew, the paralytic, the way he loves the children, the way he loves his own Mother. This is the Jesus I’ve given my life to, and this show is helping me love him even more.