Hi. Welcome to my recap and reaction to The Chosen, the crowd-funded, first ever multi-season TV series about the life of Jesus and his disciples. You can find my prior posts about the show HERE.
THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:
In the Sinai Peninsula, 13th century BC, Moses (Stelio Savante) fashions a bronze serpent, much to the confusion of his assistant Joshua (Advait Ghuge). In Capernaum, AD 26, Gaius escorts Matthew to show his gratitude for his promotion. Praetor Quintus questions Nicodemus concerning the miracle worker. Jesus agrees to meet with Nicodemus by night. Matthew struggles to reconcile the miracles he has witnessed with reality and visits his mother, hoping to find answers. Meeting with Nicodemus by night, Jesus explains the Kingdom of God and being born again. Jesus describes himself as the Son of Man, using the illustration of Moses and the bronze serpent. He tells of God’s love for the world and his mission to save mankind from sin. As Jesus invites Nicodemus to join him, John records their conversation. Nicodemus worships Jesus, declaring him as the Son of God. In the morning, Jesus and his students pass by Matthew’s booth. Jesus invites Matthew to join him, and Matthew promptly follows.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
The Sinai Peninsula, 13th Century B.C.
Joshua approaches an older man, Moses, and asks him how many more in the night. Joshua answers three hundred. He asks Joshua where they will be buried, leading him to answer regarding the difficulty of digging in the hard rocky ground. Joshua tells Moses that his concern is not for the dead, but for the dying, noting that ten serpents appear for every one that they kill. We see that Moses is working in a forge, as they discuss moving the bodies into a tent.
Moses: After today, the only Hebrew too sick to walk will be those who choose to remain so.
Joshua asks if there is medicine in the bronze he is hammering, and notes that Moses is hammering a pagan symbol. He asks Moses if he misunderstood God.
Moses: I’v learned to do what He says without questioning.
Joshua suggesting ending someone off to bring aid, just to be sure, but Moses asks him instead to hand over a pole. Moses puts the thing he was hammering onto the pole, and Joshua says that the people will consider this a cruel joke. He asks Moses to help him understand and says none of this makes any sense. Moses asks him how he can explain the Red Sea or the pillar of fire.
Moses: Any Israelite who looks upon this bronze serpent and believes in the power of Adonai will be healed. It’s an act of faith. Not reason, faith.
In the present, Matthews readies himself to leave his house. Outside, he is surprised to find Gaius, the Roman soldier, ready to walk him safely across town. Matthew asks if he is doing this because he feels indebted regarding his recent promotion. They discuss recent events regarding Quintus enlisting Simon. Matthew asks Gaius what he would do if he were the only Roman in Capernaum. The soldier answers that he would change clothes. Matthew notes that when a person realizes that nobody cares what happens to him, he learns to think only of himself.
Gaius: For a fool, your brain has taken you far. I admit it.
Matthew: I thought so, too.
Nicodemus seems agitated when he wife enters the room to inform him that she has received word their grandson has been born in Jerusalem. She starts organizing their departure from Capernaum, which causes him to protest that his research in the city is not finished. She reminds him that they need to make it back in time for the briss. He argues that they do not need to attend a fifth grandson’s briss, and she bristles, pointing out that people will have negative things to say if they hear he missed it. Nicodemus tells her that his research concerns all of Israel, not just one boy.
“There is nothing in Capernaum but demoniacs and insolent school boys. Come to your senses!”
Their argument is interrupted by the arrival of Praetor Quintus. He asks Nicodemus if they have a problem, and when Nicodemus seems not to understand him, he asks about the so-called miracle worker. Nicodemus tells him that the man’s name is Jesus, of Nazareth. Quintus tells him that a crowd in the eastern ghetto delayed Herod’s envoy and that this made him look bad. He reiterates his question, asking if there is a problem emerging in the city.
When Nicodemus hesitantly tells him no, Quintus suggests – with just a hint of a threat – that he might be better served asking Shmuel. Nicodemus says that the only way to learn Jesus’s intentions is to speak with him directly. Quintus tells him to do that. He notes that he hates crowds, and tells Nicodemus that after he arranges a private meeting, he wants to know when and where it will take place. Instead of answering, Nicodemus asks him what troubles him about the man.
Quintus: Preachers have a habit of becoming politicians. They sprout up like weeds and spread. Your wife is a gardener. She understands.
Nicodemus: Some flora spread their seeds when trampled. Who is to say you wouldn’t be creating a martyr?
Quintus: I’ll take my chances.
After Quintus leaves, Zohara, Nicodemus’s wife, notes aloud that he sympathizes with the preacher. His silence is acknowledgment.
Outside of town, Jesus and his disciples are picking up their camp site. In response to a question from John about their safety, Jesus says that after what happened the day before, they will keep moving now, from town to town. John asks if He is happy about this, and Jesus responds that he wants to do the will of His Father, so yes, He is happy to move about.
Just then, Mary Magdalene approaches and asks Jesus if she can speak with Him. She apologizes for the day before, and when Jesus asks her for what, she says she wanted the people to get closer to the sound of His voice, but says she had no idea they would open the roof and disrupt His teaching.
Jesus smiles at her and asks if she regrets that a paralytic is enjoying his first full day on his feet. She smiles back and says no. He tells her that with the faith of those people, they would have found a way to get near to him, whether she took them to the roof or not. She continues on, saying that after the gathering dispersed, a Pharisee approached her and asked for a private meeting with Jesus. She admits that she told the Pharisee she would ask. He asks if she knows the man, and she tells Jesus that he visited her… before. Jesus is surprised that a Pharisee would visit the Red Quarter. She replies that Rome sent him, and that she doubts he would have come otherwise. Mary tells Jesus that she saw the Pharisee again, after her healing, and says the man wanted to know how she was healed. She tells Jesus that she did not give the man Jesus’s name, but says he seemed earnest.
Mary: He wasn’t offended to learn that someone else had succeeded where he had failed. There was a hunger in his eyes.
Jesus tells her that there was a reason she met this Pharisee, and she gives Jesus the name of Nicodemus. Jesus instructs Mary to send word to Nicodemus that He will meet with him. Mary says that she hopes she has not helped lead Jesus into terrible danger. He replies that she has not, and then He instructs her to begin planning a dinner party for the following night in the northern district.
Outside a house, Matthew knocks on the door and then paces nervously. Matthew greets his mother, as Eema, before correcting himself to call her Elisheva. She tells him that if his father Alphaeus were home, she could not let him inside. Once seated inside, he asks his mother if his father will be home soon and she replies that he is on a work trip. He is confused by this and asks about his leather goods shop. SHe replies that he was robbed, notes that many others have also been robbed, and when Matthew says they can ask him for money if they ever need it, she tells him that his father would rather die than take his blood money.
He tells her that this is irrational, and that the Romans would be collecting taxes either way, but notes he is skilled with numbers. She asks if he came here to justify himself, and he tells her no, before getting up and pacing around. He asks her if she believes that impossible things can happen.
“That is what people asked when you were a boy. Even the Rabbis were astonished at your talent for reading, math, the way you could think faster than any other child. They thought you would be someone great.”
He begins talking about his wealth and his armed escort, when she cuts in that they never dreamed he would use his God given talent to bleed his own people dry. Matthew asks her abruptly if she has ever seen anything miraculous. He asks what if everything he thought he knew is wrong and she answers that she thinks he should go.
Matthew stops short, apuses, and puts his bag over his shoulder to leave. As he goes, his mother says he did not ask about his sister. Matthew replies that she looks well and shares that he saw her when he came to celebrate Shabbat a few weeks ago, but then he says he left first. After he goes, Matthews’s mother begins crying.
Elsewhere, Simon tells Jesus that he does not think the meeting with Nicodemus sounds safe and suggests that it might be a trap. Jesus tells him that He is well acquainted with risks. Jesus quips that Simon is also well acquainted with risk as well, if he remembers their first meeting correctly. Eden tells Jesus that risk is Simon’s oldest friend. Jesus tells Simon that Mary finds Nicodemus to be earnest, and that he should trust her instincts – and His instincts.
Jesus steps away for a moment, causing Simon to pull Eden aside and ask if there is any way to keep her Eema quiet. He says he does not want to be a distraction. Eden smiles and tells Simon that He has made up His mind about him and will not kick him out of the group.
We see next that Andrew has obtained a cloak for Jesus to wear to His meeting with Nicodemus, so that He will not be recognized going there. He also learns that the meeting place has been arranged. Jesus sets out and encourages Simon to stay behind with his wife and mother-in-law.
Later, Andrew greets Nicodemus at the door of the meeting place and tells him to go inside. He goes in and up, meeting Jesus on the rooftop. Nicodemus, with a shaky voice, thanks Jesus for agreeing to meet him. Jesus thanks him in turn for trying to help Mary when he did. Nicodemus downplays the help he provided, but Jesus tells him he was meant to be there and notes that if he had not been there that day, he might not be here tonight. Nicodemus says that he has so many questions, so Jesus suggests that they sit and talk.
Nicodemus says that he has seen many fiery preachers on the eastern shore, over the years, but noteos that none of them has ever told a paralytic to get up and walk, much less that it happened. Jesus asks what his conclusion is.
Nicodemus: I believe you are not acting alone. No one can do these signs you do without having God in Him. Only someone who has come from God. (John 3:2)
Jesus: How is that belief going over in the synagogue?
They both laugh, as Jesus comments that this is why they are here in secret. Nicodemus asks him what He has come here to show us. When Jesus answers that He is here to show the people a kingdom, Nicodemus says that this is what their rulers are worried about. Jesus corrects him that this is not a kingdom a person can see unless he is born again (John 3:3). Nicodemus asks what He means by this and says he hopes that Jesus does not mean a return to the womb, as that would be a problem for him (John 3:4).
Jesus: Truly I say to you, unless one is born of the water and of the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
He explains further, saying that which is born of the flesh, is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit (John 3:6). Nicodemus sighs and asks how these things can be (John 3:9). Jesus asks how a Teacher of Israel cannot understand these things (John 3:10.) After Nicodemus tells Jesus that he is trying, Jesus says he knows, and then directs his attention to the sound of the wind. Jesus asks if he knows where it comes from, or where it is going, and when Nicodemus says no, Jesus tells him that this is what it means to be born again (John 3:8).
Nicodemus says that he cannot imagine what kind of stir would be caused by these words, if they were heard by the teachers of the law. Jesus agrees and notes that if he has told him of earthly things, and they are not received, how can he tell him of heavenly things? (John 3:11-12)
Nicodemus tells Jesus that he believes his words, but fears that He may not have a chance to speak many more of them before He is silenced. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he has come to do more than to speak words. He asks him if he remembers when the Israelites were bitten by serpents in the wilderness of Paran. Nicodemus says yes, and that God made a way for them to be healed. Jesus says that Moses lifted the bronze serpent and that people needed only to look at it.
Jesus: So will the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.. (John 3:14-15)
Nicodemus replies that people are not dying from snake bites, they are dying from taxation and oppression. Jesus tells him that He did not come here to deliver the people from Rome. He says he came to deliver them from sin and spiritual death.
Jesus: God loves the world in this way, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Nicodemus says that this is not about ROme, but about sin, and Jesus continues saying that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it. He sent Him to save it (John 3:17). Jesus tells him that it is as simple as Moses’s serpent on the pole, noting that whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already. Outside, we see John ask Andrew if he has ever heard anythin glike this before.
Inside, Nicodemus tells Jesus that after he met Mary, he told his wife and students that she was beyond human aid. He says only God could have healed her, and then he saw her, healed.
Nicodemus: And here You are… the Healer.
Through tears, he confesses that he has wanted to see this day for his entire life. Jesus invites him to follow Him, promising that if he does, he will see more. Jesus tells him that they are leaving Caperneum in two days. When Nicodemus begins to say that he cannot, Jesus notes the things he would be giving up – a position in the Sanhedrin, family, and he adds that He knows Nicodemus is getting advanced in years. Jesus tells him that He understands but says the invitation is still open. Jesus says it is true there is a lot he would be giving up, but adds that what he would gain is far greater and more lasting. Jesus tells him to think about it, and tells him where to meet them when they gather to leave the city.
They both stand to part, and Nicodemus – through tears – asks if the Kingdom of God is really coming. Jesus asks what his heart tells him, and he replies that he is standing on Holy Ground – or Holy Roof, at least. Nicodemus gets down on his knees and quotes Psalm 2:12:
Nicodemus: Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way.”
Jesus [completing the Psalm] “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
They embrace before parting.
Later, we see Matthew at his tax collection booth with Gaius, the latter of whom is trying to make small talk. Matthew finally admits that he saw his mother the day before and that she is ashamed of him. Gaius defends Matthew’s career choice to him, as they both see Jesus walk by. Matthew stares almost longingly at Him, just before He stops. Jesus turns around and calls out to Matthew to follow him. (Matthew 9:9). Simon tries to dissuade Jesus but is brushed aside. Gaius warns Jesus to move on, but is surprised as Matthew leaves his booth. He asks if Matthew understands that he is giving up everything, and Matthew says he does understand.
Simon tells Jesus that he does not get it. Jesus notes that he did not get it when he was chosen. Simon says that this is different, as he was not a tax collector. Jesus tells him to get used to different. As Matthew joins them, he learns that they are on their way to a dinner party. WHen he tells them that he is not welcome at dinner parties, Jesus tells him that this will not be a problem tonight because Matthew is hosting. (Matthew (9:10).
Jesus meets with Nicodemus and we see the Gospel of John Chapter 3 on the screen. Then we get a very moving scene wherein Matthew is called to be a disciple.
I really loved the rooftop scene between Jesus and Nicodemus. The entire season until now was building toward this and I thought both actors absolutely nailed it. I also felt as though the scene was very faithful to the text of the Gospel, adding only a small amount of language from outside of the text to bring the conversation to life.
One subtle theme of the episode was innate gifts/talents. Matthew’s talents are a big focus, but we also see Mary Magdalene’s talents highlighted as well, with Jesus noting to Simon that she is an excellent judge of character in part due to her previous experiences. Nicodemus’s real gift is his earnestness. You sense that an authentic desire to know God more is what has driven him throughout his life – and if a good reputation and esteem came with that, then great, but those benefits are not the motivation.
I was compelled to compare the way Nicodemus’s wife Zohara reacted negatively to his sympathy for Jesus (this episode) with the way that Eden reacted supportively to Simon decision to follow Jesus (episode 4.) How much easier would it be for Nicodemus to give up everything if he knew his wife would support the choice? Nicodemus is more eager for Jesus than Simon was but he is not supported as well in that at home. Is there a lesson in this? Nicodemus earns some blame in that interaction with Zohara as well. He does not share with his wife the reason for his sympathy (though we shall see what he does next.) Simon immediately tells Eden everything.
The writing here is really great. It’s an unavoidable comparison to make, but it’s also presented with subtleness.
Matthew’s meeting with his mother was heartbreaking, but it was necessary to further flesh out his character, his standing in the world, the way that his worldview is crumbling, and it just made the final scene more meaningful. He’s kind of a side character in the Matthew scenes, but I really love Gaius, who has taken on a fatherly relationship with Matthew. He recognizes that Matthew lacks a parental presence and he is clearly proud of him and trying to provide one. It also obviously hurt him to see Matthew leave him so abruptly.
The bigger emotion of that scene though is Matthew finally being given an invitation back into his community. Jesus sees him, knows him, and calls him. Matthew’s mind led him through logic into a profession that resulted in social exile. His mind – and his inability to reconcile the person of Jesus with it – led him back. He needed to understand the impossible and the only way to do that was to follow Jesus. Jesus has the answers. Matthew is a character wherein his motivations are at war with each other. His heart is lonely, but his mind is calling the shots. You sense that Jesus is beginning the journey of bringing Matthew back into unity within himself. This moment is exceptionally well acted and directed.
Overall, this is a great episode. How do you react when confronted with the impossible? Do you shove it away or are you drawn to it? This is probably the episode of this series that I would show if I were trying to convince a skeptic to give this series a shot.