Friday, April 16, 2021
Home » News » Columns » A New Way to View ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’

A New Way to View ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’

Looking for something to binge watch this week, besides the gratuitous violence of another crime drama or another superhero movie series? Something that is relevant to the problems facing society today but will leave you with a sense of hope and encouragement? 

I have an entertaining and uplifting show for you to consider, regardless of your spiritual beliefs or religious affiliation, because it’s so well done and if you are like millions of others, it will leave you thirsting for more. In full disclosure, it is a Bible-based show and I hope that won’t dissuade some of you from giving it a try. I think you will enjoy it regardless of your current beliefs. It can’t hurt and it might help.

For months my wife kept telling me about a new show that she felt I would really like called “The Chosen,” that, until recently, could only be watched on its own streaming app. (It’s now also on Peacock and Philo.) It is billed as the first multi-season series, created outside of the Hollywood system, dedicated to the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I have seen enough attempts to tell different versions of “The Greatest Story Ever Told” from the traditional Cecil B. Demille Hollywood blockbuster to the History Channel’s documentary-style shows about the Bible. Many of them I still enjoy, but none has ever grabbed my attention the way “The Chosen” has.  

After initially resisting my wife’s suggestion that I watch it, I have immersed myself in this realistic and stylish portrayal of the life of Jesus. I started by watching the short story prequel called The Shepherd and fell in love with series creator and director Dallas Jenkins’ method of storytelling before moving on to the eight-part series. “The Chosen” brings “ The Greatest Story Ever Told” to life in a new way that captured my heart. 

The scenery, the dialogue, the actors, the music, the story of how this production came to be, have all inspired me to “Binge Jesus,” as one of Jenkins’ shirts says. The episodes have made me laugh, cry, think, wonder and discuss, and motivated me to research the history of this period and the Bible even more. It’s made me revisit my own commitment to my faith in such a positive and meaningful way. The messages of hope, caring and love resonate throughout the show, as does a powerful theme that people can change for the better. 

It could not have come at a better time given the polarized and divided world in which we currently live.  

In Kevin Keating’s June 6, 2020 article at the Bible Artist Blog, he describes the portrayal of two of the central characters in this way, “Just like Mary Magdalene, the main problem that Matthew struggles with isn’t sin: it’s rejection. And therefore, the main solution that The Chosen offers for his struggle isn’t heart transformation and forgiveness; it’s acceptance and inclusion.” 

Acceptance and inclusion? Hmmm, sounds incredibly relevant for today’s society.

Matthew, who is played incredibly well by Paras Patel, is my favorite character from the series. He is the local Jewish tax collector who works for the Romans and is despised by his own people. He is portrayed as having Asperger’s syndrome with his tics and arm movements and is described by Roman Praetor Quintus (another of my favorite characters) as both a “rube” and “so wonderfully odd and keenly intelligent.” Matthew responds to a statement from Quintus with, “I am neither sophisticated nor subtle, but I am observant.” It is the scene where he finds the acceptance he craves when he is surprisingly called by Jesus to “follow me” that is one of the most powerful for me.

The show admittedly takes a few artistic licenses and even some risks with its interpretations, but they seem to be well researched and help to bring the characters to life. For example, they portray Jesus in a way that makes him so relatable and what I personally imagine he would have been like in that part of the world during that time period. He is so “human” and unassuming. He’s also shown to have a timely sense of humor and enjoys having fun. 

Actor Jonathan Roumie’s portrayal is thoughtful and underplayed and makes you feel so comfortable with Jesus that you wish you could sit down and have a nice chat with him like an old friend. In a scene where he addresses his followers he says, “If we’re going to have a question-and-answer session every time we do something you are not used to… it’s going to be a very annoying time together for all of us.” 

The Apostle Simon Peter, played by Shahar Isaac, is shown as a feather ruffler, a schemer and a sinner, certainly not a saint. He is described by Praetor Quintus as, “Simon the cheat, Simon the fraud, Simon the guy who delivered when it mattered most!” He’s a refreshingly real character with, well, questionable character. He has a heart of gold and good intentions but ultimately when the pressure is on, he succumbs to his more human instincts to save himself.  Precisely the type of person Jesus wants to help because he recognizes his flaws but focuses on his potential.  

Episodes typically begin with a journey back to a scene from the Old Testament that relates to a corresponding scene in the New Testament. The writers fill in the details of the sparse outline from Biblical accounts that so vividly paints the culture of the time. I also enjoy the post-show discussions that include ministers, priests and rabbis in a fascinating dialogue about the way the show is being portrayed.  

There are other movies with a Christian theme that are worth watching and I have personally always enjoyed some of the standard Hollywood epics such as “Ben Hur,” “The Ten Commandments,” “Risen,” etc., all of which I thoroughly appreciated because of both my interest in history and my journey of faith over the years. Nothing has stirred me like “The Chosen.”

Another reason I was drawn to this show is because of how it was produced. The story of producer/writer/director Jenkins, a self-proclaimed failed Hollywood director, is intriguing by itself. According to a story by Michael Foust on the Crosswalk website, “The Chosen wasn’t bankrolled by Hollywood studios. It was funded by 15,000 investors who raised more than $10 million for the show to be created. VidAngel is distributing it.”

A trip to “The Chosen” website store will show apparel with sayings such as “Against the current” and “Binge Jesus” and “Get used to different.” My wife and I selected the shirts that show 13 different colored fish (representing Jesus and his 12 Apostles) swimming against the current of the conventional wisdom of the day. 

It doesn’t matter if you are a believer, the production is well worth your time. If it inspires you to watch more programs about faith, that’s awesome. If you are already a believer, the series will be a refreshing retelling of some of the best verses from both the Old and New Testament.

We certainly watch enough shows that fill our hearts and minds with violence and divisive images. Perhaps a change of viewing habits will inspire us all to be better versions of ourselves.

Give “The Chosen” a try.