The wildly popular multi-season series on the life of Jesus conclude the second season with a unique and inspiring take on the Beatitudes.
“Honestly Father, when you assigned the class to watch a Jesus show I was pretty skeptical. Most of that kind of stuff isn’t any good. But this was really good!”
I teach an entry level theology class at Providence College and one of my assignments is to watch The Chosen and write a short reflection paper on the experience. The above quote comes from one of my students. He is not the only one to share this kind of sentiment. The internet is full of similar responses. Check out this article from The Atlantic if you need further proof. The Chosen is something different, and as Jesus says in one of the episodes, “get used to different.”
The Chosen is a global sensation. It is the first multi-season show about the life of Jesus and the number one crowdfunded media project in history, not to mention each episode is available to view for free. Again, this is something different and refreshing in the world of Christian media.
The image of Jesus comes to view primarily through the eyes of his disciples. The women and men he calls to follow him each have their own story and experience. Each has a background, troubled in its own way. Each has an encounter with him—completely personalized—that gives their lives a new horizon and a decisive direction to walk in. It is these personal encounters between Jesus and his followers throughout the first two seasons that contextualizes the season 2 finale.
One of the creative moves the writers of The Chosen make is that they fill in the gaps of how specific passages of scripture might have come to be. For example, in episode 1 of season 2, Jesus reveals to John a bit about his identity as the divine Son of God, referencing the name God speaks to Moses through the burning bush: “I AM WHO I AM.” This episode finishes with a flash-forward to John composing the prologue to his Gospel, informed by this encounter: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus seems to want this encounter to shape how John will humanly write about him in his Gospel.
Jesus and Matthew have a similar encounter in the finale. As Jesus prepares his great Sermon on the Mount he takes Matthew along with him to write down the details. At one point, Jesus asks Matthew for his honest opinion about the sermon in draft form. With a certain boldness, Matthew tells Jesus there is not enough “good news” in the Sermon! Jesus’ response is striking, “I’m not here to be sentimental and soothing. I’m here to start a revolution… a revolution, not revolt.” This exchange leads Jesus to create an introduction to the sermon that will serve as an invitation to the complex and challenging teachings he will propose. Here is where the writers creatively include the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount by way of personal encounter.
Later that evening, in one of the most moving scenes in the series, Jesus brings Matthew to his side to compose the Beatitudes. As they stand upon a hillside and look down into their camp Jesus begins to recite these powerful words for Matthew to transcribe. While Jesus speaks looking down upon his followers, the screen flashes to scenes of each of his disciples, which depict an image of one of the Beatitudes. Nathaniel, the poor in spirit. Andrew, who mourns. Little James and Thaddeus, the meek. Big James and John, who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The women, who are merciful. Thomas, the pure in heart. Philip, the peace maker. John the Baptism, persecuted for righteousness. To personalize the final Beatitude even more, Jesus turns directly to Matthew and says, “blessed are you when others revile you, and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” Matthew is the disciple most ridiculed for his past as a tax collector and Jesus speaks directly to this experience. However, in the eyes of Jesus he is blessed.
Jesus is here to bring about something “different” and The Chosen depicts the difference of Christ in the Gospels through a new, different model of storytelling. The narrative of the series is not wholly top-down. Rather, there is real emphasis on the role of his disciples as not only witnesses to the Truth, but as those who participate in the Truth itself, who model, shape, and inform the Truth of the Gospels. In this mode, the personal encounters that the disciples have with Jesus inform how Jesus communicates his Truth to the world. In other words, there is flesh to the Beatitudes. There is a lived experience and story behind each Beatitude that both dignifies and ennobles those who walk in its way. If the disciples are made in the image of God, the Beatitudes are made in the image of the disciples. This new, incarnational worldview is something different that makes The Chosen stand out.
What The Chosen gets extraordinarily right throughout the first two seasons, and especially in the season 2 finale, is that we matter. To be chosen by God, as we all are as his beloved daughters and sons, is what ennobles us. No matter the imperfections we may have, we have an active role to play in his narrative. We are in his image and the Beatitudes bear our image. And if The Chosen in its creativity is right, then the followers of Jesus are more than witnesses to the Truth, they are active participants in it. And that is really good!