The Chosen: I Have Called You by Name

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Book Review

For hundreds of years, the Jewish people had struggled, suffered and waited for a great Messiah to be sent by God to free them from their bondage. Some even began to believe it was a fantasy that would never happen. But then a man named Simon, a tormented woman named Mary and even a hated tax collector named Matthew each saw a glimmer of hope. They and others have their names called and their lives transformed by a gentle, oddly confident and wonderfully miraculous man. But who exactly is He? The Chosen: I Have Called You by Name answers that question.

Plot Summary

Being a fisherman is no easy life. Simon is a good one, but he still struggles to keep food on the table and a roof over his and his wife’s heads. Due to day-to-day debt, the crushing taxes of the Roman overlords and, admittedly, some foolish choices of his own, Simon’s in an awful place. And if he and his brother, Andrew, are to stay out of jail, he’ll likely have to make some equally awful choices that will leave him hated by nearly everyone he knows.

Another man in Simon’s town is already hated by everyone. Matthew is a tax collector. Because he works with the Romans to squeeze out every bekah his fellow Jews can muster, Matthew is also an outcast. He’s seen by everyone as a vile betrayer of his people. As such, he lives a lonely life, an empty life, a life cut off even from his own parents. He is a dead man who still breathes.

A woman named Mary, whom most these days know as Lilith, would gladly exchange her life with either Matthew or Simon. Since she was a young girl, she’s lived an existence of torment. She has spells that steal away her wits and drive her screaming into the streets to attack and rake with tooth and nail literally anyone she encounters. They call her demon possessed. And when she awakens with no memory in her squalid hovel after one such attacks, Mary certainly feels nothing less than bedeviled. Her life is a filthy agony.

Each of these people is called by name by a man they’ve never met. He’s a gentle, wise, oddly confident and wholly miraculous man. He can heal with the touch of His hand. He can understand and sooth mental misery with the insight of a mind reader. He can speak and smile easily as if you’ve known him all your life.

Some think this man is a trickster, a clever fool who communes with the dregs of humanity to undermine truth and law.

Mary, Matthew and Simon know He is so much more. He is the Messiah sent from God. The Savior. He has touched and transformed their lives and the lives of others. He’s a miracle. This man called them all by name—even using secret names that no one else knew. And he asked them to call him … Jesus.

Christian Beliefs

This entire novel and its stories are plucked from Scripture, referencing not only familiar New Testament passages but some from the Old Testament as well. In fact, many dialogue interactions are pulled directly from the Bible. But the book also plays out scenes that include locations and timelines that have been combined or condensed from their original scriptural context to support the drama on hand. And there are some backstory elements here that the Bible never addresses.

It’s all designed to draw readers in and flesh out biblical stories that they might know, but which perhaps they have never felt closely attached to. This first entry in the series declares that Jesus is God’s Son, sent directly to His chosen people of Israel to give them hope, redemption and freedom from the torment and slavery of sin. It’s made clear, however, that this Messiah comes not as a warrior—which many Jews expected and longed for—but as a God-man who offers redemption and love.

During one of Mary’s spells, the Pharisee Nicodemus is called in to exercise the demons in her. He speaks in God’s name, uttering scriptural commands for the demons to depart. But the possessed Mary looks at him with a tortured amusement and speaks with “a voice that sounds like several men speaking at once.” The voice tells Nicodemus, “We are not afraid of you.”

Other Belief Systems

Several of the spiritual leaders known as the Pharisees believe that Jesus is just the opposite of what He claims to be. In fact, they believe His claims to heal and forgive are a direct contravention of God’s law.

The ruling Romans, meanwhile, have their own gods. That said, other than a brief mention and a belief that their law will be obeyed above all else, the Roman characters we meet don’t talk about faith.

Authority Roles

The Roman officers and a governing local Praetor, Quintus, are the ruling overseers of the land. And they are hard taskmasters who squeeze the Jewish people for large sums in taxes for the empire. Several times, we hear about Quintus having the power to kill those who displease him. Even other Romans fear his wrath.

There are a few parents presented within the story, but only casually, and they all appear to be protective and fair. Jesus actually spends the most time with children in this book. He takes time to talk with them and teach them while in the process of getting ready to start his ministry. The word spreads and the group of children grows quickly—all drawn to his kindness and wisdom. Jesus states that if He can make His lessons of belief and forgiveness clear to the children, then their parents may come to understand His teachings, too.

Profanity & Violence

No profanity or foul language.

We do see Simon getting into a brawl with other men and being cold-cocked by someone who snuck up behind him. And we witness the violent aftereffects of one of Mary’s spells: a room of smashed furniture and people running for safety.

A variety of people drink wine. And Jesus and his followers go to a wedding in Galilee where participants drink heavily throughout. Some are somewhat tipsy from their overconsumption. (And, of course, that’s where Jesus miraculously transforms water into wine.)

Sexual Content

During her years of spells and attacks, Mary is ostracized by the surrounding community. One woman, however, welcomes her into the “Red Quarter” and gives her a small room to stay in. The Red Quarter is a place for prostitutes and illicit activities, though the actions of others there is never described. Jesus, however, heals Mary of her demons and openly welcomes Mary, as well as the woman who protected her and others from that area, into his fellowship. Later when self-righteous Pharisees yell at Jesus for communing with those types of people Jesus replies, “Those that are healthy have no need of a doctor, I come for those who are sick.”

Mary briefly remembers being raped as a young woman (though we don’t see anything graphic).

Discussion Topics

Since this is a dramatization of Scripture, does that change how you see it? Did this novel’s depiction affect how you felt about these biblical stories or the people in them? Do you think the depiction of Jesus here lines up with Scripture?

If you were a part of the world back then, how do you think you would have reacted to the events of this book? How does it relate to the world right now?

What did you like most about this book?

Get free discussion questions for other books at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments

The Chosen: I Have Called You By Name is a novelization of the popular and ongoing TV series The Chosen. (You can purchase the book here and learn about other Chosen resources here.) It helps readers connect with the context and history of the biblical stories it tells. By fleshing out the characters dramatically, it makes it easier for modern kids and adults to put themselves in another’s shoes and think about how they would react to meeting Jesus face to face. Parents of younger readers, however, should make it clear that some of the details of the stories have been dramatized and fleshed out by the author.

You can also learn more about The Chosen series and other products related to it here. 

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose

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