This Time the Crucifixion Will Be Personal

The Chosen
Voiced by Amazon Polly

I dread the final season of The Chosen because that is when they will kill my dear friend Jesus. This may sound heretical, but I have never felt exactly this way about Him before.

There has always been a kind of veil between Him and me, a fog that even His light cannot fully pierce. He is a historical figure to be sure. I know that He lived. I know the Gospel stories, the Parables, the Sermon on the Mount, yet still He seems remote to me. One does not need faith to believe in God; the proofs of His existence are all around us. However, one does need faith to believe the man Jesus is God—and even a little bit of faith that this God is also fully man. One can, after all, sympathize with the Arians.

I figure this is why evangelicals use such intense emotion about Jesus to generate a love that may not rise naturally to the level they wish. Their emotional response may not be the same as loving a person but more akin to loving a feeling. Of course, I could be completely wrong about this.

But this is also why Catholics have used art—why we place Him on the cross—so that we can see and know Him. This is why He has been painted how many times? This is the reason for the Pietà. But even in painting and sculpture, there is this veil. We cannot know Him from oil and stone.

Like other great art, film has contributed in a powerful way to bridge the gap between Him and us. But even among filmmakers, there is this tendency to make Him fully God and maybe a tad less than fully man. Think of Robert Powell, who played Him in Jesus of Nazareth. So powerful was his image that some even hung it in churches. It came to annoy the actor. Think of Max von Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told, fully God! In our own time, there is Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ. And in each of these, Jesus is fully God and, I argue, maybe a little less than fully man.

And so there remains this separation between Him and us. This separation will end one day, and we may be shocked and surprised to discover all we do not know.

In the meantime, along came Dallas Jenkins and Jonathan Roumie and a Jesus we have never quite seen before, one who is fully God and, just as important, fully man. It certainly has something to do with casting. Roumie looks like Jesus. I know, it’s a silly thing to say, but doesn’t he? And then there is the script. The combination of this Jesus and this script is where things get very interesting.

One thing to know is that the series is one prolonged exercise in Lectio Divina. The creators have placed themselves in Gospel situations and let their imaginations play out. So, many of these scenes are not, therefore, entirely biblical. For me, one particular scene tells the tale of this Jesus and this remarkable series.

Jesus and His men had gone to Samaria. He meets the woman at the well, the whole story of which is wonderfully imagined, including that Jesus and His men stay at her house for the night. Told that one of the rooms is haunted, a wide-eyed Jesus says, “I’ll take that one!”

But it is the scene with a crippled farmer that draws our attention. We first see him hobbling at dusk toward an uncultivated field that he clearly cannot work himself. He can barely walk. His family is hungry, and he cannot feed them. Recall, this was the town where James and John want to call down fire upon the heads of recalcitrant Samaritans who mistreat Jesus. This crippled farmer is a Samaritan.

As a lesson for their anger, Jesus sends James and John, newly christened “Sons of Thunder,” out to this farmer’s field to till and plant. Later that evening, Jesus and His men show up at the farmer’s house. The farmer tells them he cannot pay or even offer them any food. Jesus says, “We have that covered.” Note the very American idiom used by Jesus: “We have that covered.” So much of this show is American and, for some of us, that is part of its appeal.

After dinner, the man reveals to Jesus that his leg is crippled because he fell from a horse he took from a Jew he robbed late one night on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. We know this story. The crippled farmer is stricken because he believes he killed the Jew and that he is a murderer. This horror has haunted him every day since. The farmer wants Jesus to know the kind of man He has helped. Having heard the man’s confession, Jesus looks at him and says, “The man is alive.” It dawns on the crippled farmer that this man Jesus is more than an itinerant preacher.

It is late, getting dark. Jesus and His men rise to return to town, and Jesus says, “Yes, you never know what sort of man lay in wait along the side of the road.” There is this pregnant pause. Did Jesus really say that? Jesus raises His palms like any Catskill comedian, shrugs, and says, “Too soon?” Watching this at home, I had to pause—you must pause a lot watching this program—and simply marvel at the genius of that moment. The farmer’s wife says, “You told Him?” The farmer says, “I think He already knew.” The farmer wakes up the next morning healed. He and his family go to the synagogue in Samaria to hear Jesus read Torah. 

So, here’s the thing about that moment and this series. Jesus is fully man. You want to have a beer with Him. And He wants to have a beer with you; and over beers your life will change and so will your afterlife. I know, I know; some of my more traditional brethren will say you’ll fall prostrate when you meet Jesus. This is also true. But besides being fully God, He is also fully man, so there are also beers and great laughter.

The result of watching this Jesus is that I have come to love Him in ways hitherto unknown to me. He has sent me to read more and more lives of Christ. I recommend to you Life of Jesus by Francis Fernandez-Carvajal. Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ is waiting on my nightstand. And then there will come Alban Goodier’s The Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not like these books are unknown to me, but this love is new.

This brings me to the crucifixion. This time, for the first time, it will be deeply personal. I know Him. He is my friend. The crucifixion this time has me deeply worried.

[Image Credit: The Chosen Official Trailer Screen Capture]

By

Austin Ruse is a contributing editor to Crisis Magazine. His latest book, Under Siege: No Finer Time to be a Faithful Catholic, is now available from Crisis Publications.

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