It looks like America magazine and I are on the same wavelength this week. A month ago we were invited to deepen our spiritual practices with Visio Divina, that is, using artwork and other media to contemplate the Scriptures. In “Holy Week Film Festival”, America magazine writer Zac Davis offers a guide to movies that can inspire more imaginative reflection and prayer. You’ll find there many recommendations beyond the classic “Barabbas” I watched every year as a child.
I have recently come across the 2017 TV series “The Chosen” (Yes, I’m a little late to jump on that bandwagon!) Produced by Loaves & Fishes Productions and Angel Studios, and written by Tyler Thompson, Dallas Jenkins and Ryan Swanson, the series aims to explore the life of Jesus and His followers in a novel format that puts you in the midst of the sights and sounds, religious customs and politics of first-century Judea, as we watch a young Nazarean man accept his destiny and begin his public ministry. There are bound to be some flights of fancy in the details (the backstory of Mary Magdalene, for example) but so far, I haven’t discovered blatant discrepancies from scriptural tradition. And oh, what joy, to see Jesus, on the cusp of his public ministry, surrounded by village children drawn to his gentleness, goodness, and wisdom! As if Simon Peter wasn’t already one of the most conflicted characters in the Gospels, we here see him in trouble with the law, (both Hebrew and Roman) very much in love with his wife (she’s given the name Eden), and filled with passion for this holy man who calls him from his life of subsistence fishing.
I especially loved the episode depicting the wedding feast at Cana, which fleshes out some unasked questions: why were Mary and her son invited? Why did the hosts run out of wine? Why was Mary so concerned about this that she “butted in” and consequently propelled her son on his life’s mission? And, by the way, here we meet Thomas, a worrier and doubter long before his well-known scene with the resurrected Jesus. And a flashback to a frantic mother searching for her 12-year-old son in the streets of Jerusalem, a heart-touching scene that shows us also a loving, worried (earthly) father in Joseph.
Season 1 (and the book version of that season) bring us only as far as Samaria, but already I feel more drawn to both Marys, Peter, Nicodemus and others not fully fleshed-out in the actual scriptures. As I imagine the lives and reactions of those around Jesus, I am drawn closer to Him as well, and find myself asking, again and again, “Who is this Jesus to me?” And I think that’s a very good question, during Holy Week, and every week.
—Seasons 1 and 2 are available on YouTube and in its own app. Season 3 (of a planned 7 seasons) is in production. Not surprisingly, a slew of accompanying journals and ancillary materials are popping up (but not necessary.)
Mary McCarty is a native of Southern California and has been managing the bookstore at the Jesuit Retreat Center for almost 7 years.