Representation & Seeing — Some thoughts on The Chosen, a new mini-series on the life of Christ
Hello St. Matts,
My name is Michelle and my family and I are rather new to this church community. We, like some of you, are just venturing out to a physical building to be in physical community together on Sunday mornings, after a long time of disruption and uncertainty in this and in all areas of life as we knew it, since the start of the pandemic. It’s been good to come together to worship, and it’s been good to meet new faces behind masks!
I don’t know how many of you attended (either live or on zoom) the recent film discussion of Jesus Christ Super Star. I did. I was so thankful for a space to hear a discussion on both the life of Christ and our representations of His life through art. In this case, through acting & music. It got me thinking about the perennial urge we have as humans, and as Christians too, to “see” God. I think Pastor Philip talked about this when in our journey through Mark we met the blind man who cried out, “Lord, I want to see.”
Some religions represent their gods in physical form out of physical material; others forbid physical representation of their deity. We do neither because we recognize a God who presented Himself for us to see, in physical form — our physical human form – in Christ. In other words, we believe in a God who has clearly presented Himself to us. And a God who has then given us a lasting representation of His presentation in the gospel accounts of scripture, recorded firsthand and then passed down to us over time. It’s a layered thing, God’s revelation of Himself throughout time, just as God remains layered in mystery and revelation, witness and invisibility. And yet in Christ, God has come intimately near us, as the writer Max Lucado outlines in his classic book God Came Near (which, by the way, is an excellent read or re-read as we head towards Advent & Christmas!)
No matter how you analyze it, having faith in Jesus as a Messiah or Saviour requires us to hold this tension between what is clear and what is not fully known. Paul describes our vision through faith like seeing through a mirror dimly, in I Cor. 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” We know we can’t see fully now, and yet Jesus says to his disciples and to us, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
This brings me to my next point: our perennial urge to represent Jesus. Though our attempts to re-tell and re-present the story and person of Jesus are as varied as the individual behind the artistic representation (as we saw from a comparison of two versions of the same film), I think something about the urge to see Jesus and have Him seen is in keeping with the revelatory nature of God. And as fractured and skewed as our human attempts may be to capture Christ – His divine nature seems to be both revealed and held in mystery whenever He’s represented. His strange beauty and truth, His compelling life & death defy even our best attempts to define Him prescriptively, and they also challenge our worst attempts to distort, defile and discredit Him. Perhaps the truest response that Christ elicits, being who He is — Son of Man and Son of God, in time and out of it – is worship.
And this brings me, finally, to the point of this blog post: it’s to recommend perhaps one of the most surprising things to emerge during this pandemic: a compelling, fresh evocative miniseries on the life of Christ! Has anyone already watched The Chosen? If not, I want to shout out: “Please DO!! And share it with anyone you can!” There have been many Jesus films, but in keeping with our Netflix-times, the genre of a mini-series offers creative breath and depth, the time to meander, both in plot development and character exploration. Through a slow unravelling and development over episodes, the characters who surround Jesus, who define His life here on earth, become rich and relatable. So human in their struggles to recognize Him and contend with who He says He is and what He does among them– and so like our modern selves. The disciples, the woman at the well, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene…what could we have in common with them? This series builds a fresh bridge between Jesus in His historical context and us in our day — so powerfully in fact, that as and when Jesus encounters those in His story, their gradual response of both worship & surrender is potentially and powerfully ours as well!
There’s unconventionality and creative surprise too. For example, an episode devoted entirely to children (after all, why does Jesus think children are so important to the point where he rebukes his disciples for sending them away?) And an episode that imagines the character often overlooked in the Good Samaritan story (the one who robbed & attacked the unfortunate traveller in the first place), as if to ask the question: can Christ redeem even the stories left untold in scripture?
All in all, it’s a fresh and provocative series to follow with friends, with family, with young people – we’ve had many a family discussion about responses & reactions after several episodes.
Oh, and one last thing: you won’t find it on Netflix. Despite its stellar production and direction, it’s not Hollywood produced. Instead, in keeping with its general unconventionality, it’s been completely crowdfunded, which means viewers have helped “pay it forward” for other potential viewers, and for future episode production. You can watch it for free here, because someone else has paid for you to do so – and then if you feel so compelled, you can donate towards future episodes and someone else’s free viewing: https://watch.angelstudios.com/thechosen
Just another characteristic about this series that demonstrates the power of representation & its work in making Jesus seen, once again!