The Night Agent
As far as spy thrillers go, The Night Agent is par for the course. But as far as family viewing goes, it might be better to blacklist this one.
[Editor’s Note: The final two episodes of The Chosen, Season Three, will be debuting in theaters as a movie-length release. It will be in theaters Feb. 2 through Feb. 6.]
The world could use more Jesus. But can it use more of Him on television?
Depictions of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have been a mainstay on both big and small screens since we’ve had screens to watch. His story’s been told and told and told some more, and a cynic might doubt whether another such retelling can possibly bring anything new to the party.
The Chosen has two words for that cynic: Wanna bet?
The Chosen is the product of two up-to-the-minute trends: Streaming networks and crowdfunding. But it’s not just that: The Chosen is, in terms of it’s filming and release strategy, unlike anything else out there. No joke.
Creator/director Dallas Jenkins created the first season of The Chosen thanks to around 19,000 investors (according to a brief message Jenkins shared before the first episode of Season Two). The second season—thanks to hundreds of thousands of new donors—has been fully paid for, as well. Jenkins hopes that The Chosen eventually spans seven seasons—a lofty goal to be sure, but Jenkins says he has already seen “God’s impossible math” in action. And these seasons aren’t available via a standard network or streaming service. They’re only available on YouTube or Facebook or, most especially, the app. Jenkins says that the Chosen app will be each episode’s real launching pad.
But if the show’s inception and distribution have been a little bit divergent, the show itself offers some new wrinkles, as well.
As mentioned, The Chosen’s creators hope for a seven-season run, which might strike some as a challenge: Movies that follow a given Gospel word-for-word run long, but there’s not enough in the text to stretch the story out for a Game of Thrones-like run.
So the show’s producers have shifted away from strict fidelity to the text and into a more imaginative, extrapolated, extra-biblical narrative. It’s fiction, in other words¬—fiction that was inspired by and embraces Scripture, but fiction that nonetheless feels free to remove and (mostly) add elements as the story—not theology—demands. The first episode of Season Two, for instance, plucks a handful of parables, but uses them simply to structure a mostly fictional imagining of what Jesus’ stay in Sychar, Samaria, might’ve looked like—from a surprise feast with a crippled sinner to a visit to the town’s synagogue.
The show’s makers clearly wanted this story to be a cut above your typical Christian passion play. They seem to be gunning for The Chosen almost to be a biblical Breaking Bad.
I mean that in the best of ways, incidentally. For viewers who approach Christian entertainment with a jaundiced eye, The Chosen gives us something different: a gritty, grimy, problematic Palestine filled with the unwashed and impure, giving the production a flavor of authenticity.
The episodes thus far hone tightly in on its ancillary characters—infusing them with dimension the Gospels just didn’t give. And while the Season One showed Jesus gathering some of His more prominent followers, Season Two reveals some friction and jealousies developing among them. Just because they’re chosen, after all, doesn’t mean they stop being human. Jenkins and Co. have made the brave and, I think, smart move to dole out Jesus over time—to let these very real subplots begin to emerge before these characters’ realities are completely upended. In Season Three, the 12 have been gathered, the word about Jesus is beginning to spread, and He sends them out to further His kingdom purposes—despite much fear and uncertainty on the part of His fledgling followers.
The result? A show that’s more show than sermon, one that feels strangely taut and engrossing—even for those of us who know its ultimate end.
But naturally, The Chosen comes with a few caveats.
Again, the world given to us here isn’t the sanctified version we see in stained glass or many a movie about Jesus. While the content isn’t gratuitous, exactly, people step in dung, long to get drunk and engage in fistfights. Characters get hurt and sometimes die. The streets of Palestine can practically reek of sin. It all feels germane: Jesus came to save such a world as this, after all. But it can be a bit graphic.
The ambitions of The Chosen require a great deal of poetic license, shall we say—again, a work of fiction in service of this age-old tale.
But for TV fans spoiled by today’s rich, complex television landscape but tired of its salaciousness; for viewers who love Jesus (or who just want to know more about Him) but are turned off by what they might see as shallow, saccharine piety; The Chosen might just scratch an itch they never even knew they had.
Jesus has been creating a whole lot of buzz lately—buzz that’s attracting both positive and negative attention. Even the governor of the region, Pontius Pilate, has heard of him. He’s having a meeting with an informant named Atticus, and he’s commissioned him to learn all he can about Jesus and his relationship with Roman official Quintus. As for Pilate’s wife, she’s been having horrific nightmares of a snake attacking Jesus in a garden.
Quintus, for his part, is annoyed with how Gaius has been handling the “tent city” outside Capernaum. The people there are too poor to tax or jail, and Quintus knows they’re only there because of Jesus’ preaching. He briefly considers having Gaius kill Jesus, but he’s concerned it would cause a revolt. Instead, Quintus commands Gaius to find legal loopholes that will cause the tent city to crumble.
But Gaius is starting to come around in his relationship with the Jewish people. Contrary to destroying the tent city, Gaius is helping the people there. And when Jesus comes to town, he listens to his preaching—even drawing a sword to dissuade an angry rabbi who attempts to threaten Jesus. The change is evident to at least Peter and Matthew, who consider Gaius to be a good man—though other disciples disagree, one even calling him a terrorist.
And disagreement is running rife among the disciples’ ranks. They sharpen weapons, afraid of resistance with Jesus’ popularity, with some noting how if Veronica could get to Jesus easily, so too could someone with dangerous intentions. In fact, a Greek man visits Philip and Andrew, telling them that their preaching in Decapolis while on mission has caused Greek people to worship Jesus, causing chaos. The two return in order to finish their preaching, which had been interrupted earlier. Another disciple expresses concern that power flowed from Jesus “without His consent” when Veronica was healed of her blood issue.
But Simon the Zealot is concerned, rather, with his own well-being. The order of zealots he was once a part of have tracked him down to Capernaum, and they plan to assassinate him. However, Simon prays, and he tells them that he left to serve the Messiah. They doubt his claims—after all, if Rome is still in charge, then the Messiah hasn’t yet come. But when the leader of their group sees Jesus healing people and speaking about the Kingdom of God, he relents from his plan to kill Simon, needing to think about Jesus’ words.
The words they hear from Jesus stem from Luke 7:18-35, when two disciples of John the Baptist come to ask Jesus if he’s the One who is to come (in plainer words—if He’s the Messiah). Jesus uses the moment to confirm that John is the one who the prophets Isaiah and Malachi spoke of in saying “Behold, I send my messenger before you, who will prepare the way before you” (Mal. 3:1, Isa. 40:3-5). Jesus tells the men to report to John of the miracles He has done as confirmation of His ministry.
Meanwhile, Peter finally learns the cause of Eden’s pain, and he questions why God would allow his wife to miscarry, especially while he is away serving the Messiah.
As for Mary Magdalene and Tamar, the tension between the two comes to a head. Mary reveals that she is upset because her life before Jesus had much more trauma and shame than Tamar’s. She still feels unworthy of Jesus, and she feels Tamar should feel likewise rather than her usual assertive attitude. “But Jesus forgave you,” Tamar responds, “and you choose to hold onto it.” Tamar also reveals her own tragic past, and the two reconcile, agreeing to learn from one another.
Pilate makes reference to a prostitute. Atticus expresses surprise that Pilate did not have any wine or women with him. Three people are seen crucified. Mary Magdalene talks about a way to make soil more fruitful for their olive trees, calling the method “magic, but not sinful.” Peter asks John’s disciples about Andrew’s excretory habits in order to determine whether they know him.
Andrew and Philip return from their journey to try to fix things in Decapolis, but they’ve only made things worse. They taught Jesus’ Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24), but the parable caused a riot to break out between Jews and Gentiles. After hearing the story, Judas Iscariot gives a succinct summary: “The Jews understood you to mean that Jesus was calling for Gentiles, and the Gentiles thought that you were calling them second class.”
When the other disciples hear of the situation, they’re split on what to do. Andrew and Philip have returned to try to get Jesus to handle the situation, but Big James argues that Jesus shouldn’t leave, since there are still Jews waiting to hear what Jesus has to say. In response, Philip quotes Isaiah’s prophecy about Gentiles coming to the Lord (Isa. 42:1-4; Matt. 12:15-21). Matthew also chimes in, reminding everyone that Jesus’ ancestry contains Gentile ancestors such as Rahab and Ruth. Ultimately, the disciples decide to take the issue to Jesus and let Him determine what to do.
Meanwhile, the disciples deal with some of their own issues. Mary Magdalene asks Matthew about prayer tassels she found in his possession, and he admits that they were given to him by a man long ago who said the tassels were of enormous value. The man spoke about the importance of Benjamin (one of Jacob’s 12 sons), and he tells Matthew that he’s taken on the debts of his children since he’s going to die soon anyway—and he can protect them from the debt through his sacrifice. He gave Matthew the tassels, which he kept as a reminder of “his sins against his people.” Mary identified that it wasn’t the tassels that were valuable—it was the man’s faith, which Matthew now has. She likewise shares her own story of experiencing God’s redemption. (Thaddeus later explains the Jewish significance of the prayer tassels to Matthew, too.)
Peter, meanwhile, stumbles through the city, mourning the loss of his child. He eventually finds himself with the Roman Quarter (where Jews are not allowed), and Gaius is forced to come to his rescue, taking him to his home. Peter learns of Gaius’ sick servant boy, and Gaius reveals that it’s actually his son via a different mother. (This is likely setting up the story described in Matt. 8:5-13.)
Jesus decides to go to Decapolis with his disciples, but he leaves John behind to wait for Peter to return (much to John’s dismay). John’s upset with how Peter has been acting lately, and he admits that he’s jealous of Peter having a wife. This causes Peter to divulge the miscarriage to John. Peter reveals that he’s furious with Jesus for allowing Eden to miscarry even while Jesus heals complete strangers. John reminds Peter that followers of Christ are not promised health and prosperity and should expect to experience suffering.
Atticus enters the Court of the Gentiles at the Jewish temple, where we see Pharisees selling animals for sacrifices. He inquires for information about Jesus.
Jews celebrate Purim by recounting the story of Esther. The disciples buy sulfur to help with their olive grove, but they’re wary that some may see their purchase as evidence that they’re preparing to go to war. When Gaius meets the distraught Peter, he asks him why he didn’t just drink away his sorrow. We hear of a con man named Jesus (a common name in the region) who is using Jesus Christ’s popularity as a way to swindle people out of their money. Someone uses “Hades” as a swear.
The theme of Season 3’s finale centers around Psalm 77. The episode starts in 990 B.C., where we see David and one of his wives listening intently to the reading of the (at the time) new psalm. It’s one of the many psalms of anguish, written in a time of mourning and anger. Click here to read the full psalm.
Peter and Eden are both struggling with depression, anger and doubt because of the miscarriage. Peter even confesses that he feels God made a mistake in choosing him as a disciple. “Even God makes them, right?” He angrily puts forth. He’s even mad when he sees Jesus feeding and healing strangers, as it only reminds him of how Jesus chose not to save his child. It comes to a head when Peter argues with Jesus about it, and Jesus tells Peter that He allows trials because they prove the genuineness of our faith (Peter will later apply this in 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Likewise, Eden is upset too, and she’s unsure how to feel joy again. She mentions becoming ritually clean, and we later see her perform the ritual. One friend tells her that she needs time to grieve, and another considers reading an uplifting psalm. But when they go to see Yussif, he reads Psalm 77 to her, explaining that the songs of anguish as just as important and can help us grow closer to God through our grief.
In the Decapolis, Jesus and His disciples are accosted by a variety of angry people, Jew and Gentile, each with their own beliefs. They’re upset with the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). But Jesus uses the appearance of the crowd to begin to teach, offering the analogy of faith the size of a mustard seed (Matt. 17:20-21). “It’s not about size [of faith],” He says. “It’s about who your faith is in.”
But some people aren’t buying in. They debate on sacrificial systems and pagan gods. A Hellenistic Jew quotes a prophet at Jesus, and when Jesus quotes Isaiah back, the man accuses Him of pitting the prophets against one another. Jesus explains the meaning of the parable: “God wants His house full, and everyone who believes in Me is invited, plain and simple.”
With a massive crowd arriving, Jesus decides to teach many parables. He teaches the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23), the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matt. 13:31-32), the Parable of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Price (Matt. 13:44-46) and Parable of the Two Sons (Matt. 21:28-32). He also speaks Matthew 11:25-30. Though they are organized together with these sayings in the Bible, both the Parable of the Weeds and the death of John the Baptist are not covered in this episode.
Jesus spends two days speaking to the crowd, keeping them so long that they’re very hungry when He’s finished. He multiplies fish and loaves to feed the 5,000. And later, the disciples decide to cross the Sea of Galilee and are caught up in a storm. They see a figure walking across the water and claim to see a ghost. But they discover that it’s Jesus walking on water, and Peter steps out of the boat to meet Him. However, overcome with fear, Peter doubts Jesus for a moment and sinks below the water, and Jesus pulls him out. He also commands the storm to cease and the water to still, and it does.
Throughout the episode, the Pharisees travel to find Jesus. It begins when a Hellenistic Jew comes to Shmuel to put forth charges of false prophecy against Jesus. The Pharisees debate the importance of going to Decapolis, as it means stretching their resources thin. Regardless, they arrive as the crowds are leaving Jesus’ sermon, and one manages to find Jesus. He admits he is troubled in his soul, apparently grappling with Jesus’ words and tradition. He quotes from Psalm 13 (another psalm of anguish) to describe his emotions, and he leaves to pray with Jesus.
Jesus heals a man with an infected and bloody leg.
In the opening scene, set two weeks before the rest of the episode, we watch as a woman gives birth to a baby. She screams in pain, and blood is seen. And at the end of it, we discover that she has had a stillbirth. It is revealed that the woman is Peter’s wife, Eden, explaining why she is upset with Peter.
Jesus returns to Capernaum, where He meets with His disciples in Peter’s home. A couple of them ask Jesus about fasting, and why they haven’t been told to do it. They wonder if the failing to fast may weaponize the Pharisees’ accusations against Him. Jesus responds by telling them the Parable of the Bridegroom and the Parable of the Wineskins (Matt. 9:14-17). Just then, He is interrupted by Jairus, who has rushed to find Jesus in an attempt to get Jesus to heal His dying daughter. Jesus commends Jairus for His faith, and the two set off to heal the girl.
While on the way, Jesus is swarmed by a crowd of people wanting Jesus to heal them. Among the crowd is Veronica, who earlier met Thaddeus and Nathaniel after they followed her trail of blood on the ground. She claimed that if she could just touch Jesus’ garment, she’d be healed. “That’s a superstition,” Nathaniel responds. “Maybe for other holy men,” Veronica replies, “But I’m not talking about other holy men; I’m talking about Him.” And indeed, Veronica is healed when she touches Jesus’ garment as He passes. Jesus confronts her, calling her His daughter, and explaining that it wasn’t His clothing that healed her, but rather, it was her faith that made her well.
However, during the delay, Jairus’ daughter dies. Jesus and Jairus arrive to the sound of funeral flutes. However, He brings the girl back to life, saying that she was only sleeping, and He charges those in the room to say nothing of the healing. Though the moment is happy, it causes Eden to be conflicted due to her own stillbirth two weeks prior.
In Zebedee’s home, James and John argue more about their missionary experiences—just as Zebedee arrives home. He tells the brothers that he sold the family boat to start a new business. Fishing was merely his work until the Messiah came and his boys got real jobs, Zebedee explains. “He chose you,” he says proudly, “I’m free to try something new, too.” His new venture is purchasing an olive tree orchard, which Judas Iscariot has purchased using ministry finances.
Also in Capernaum, Peter and Gaius continue their unlikely alliance and partnership as they fix the cistern, and the two men of differing cultures talk about their respective beliefs. After they high-five at one point, there’s a point of tension. “Oh, Styx,” Gaius says, “Were you not supposed to touch me? Don’t you refer to us as dogs or something?”
“What? You call us dogs!” Peter replies, “Among other things: rats, vermin.”
Gaius mentions having a servant boy in the home, something Peter shows his disapproval about. “Child slavery,” he quips, “and you wonder why our people find you distasteful.” But Gaius claims they raised the boy as their own. The two furthermore discuss difference in religion. Peter quotes Jeremiah 2:9-13 regarding living water and broken cisterns, and Gaius responds with his own beliefs of the various pagan gods.
The disciples close out the day by having a chicken fight game in the Sea of Galilee.
The disciples return to Capernaum from their first missionary journeys, and they’re excited to share with one another all the works they’ve accomplished, including healing people of their diseases and expelling demons from people. Peter and Judas even come across a pagan man who cuts open a bird and removes its organs in an attempt to get the gods to listen to him, and the two convince many onlookers to follow them instead. Even Judas, who’ll later betray Jesus, is able to cast out a demon—and Judas later identifies that it must not be them who have power but Jesus working through them as vessels.
The journey has changed all of them, especially the brothers James and John, who no longer fidget as they attend synagogue—even though the reading is not from one of the most attention-grabbing sections of Torah. It’s Leviticus 15, a passage that talks about how to become ceremonially clean again after contact with various discharges of bodily fluids. The primary way to become clean? Wash with clean water—which is becoming a concern, as the town’s cistern has recently become contaminated from a broken sewage line, forcing everyone to wait long hours in the hot sun at a well outside of town.
Because menstruation also produces ceremonial uncleanliness, many women will be unable to go to synagogue unless the cistern is fixed soon. Normally, the broken cistern would be an issue for Rome to fix. But Rome doesn’t particularly like Capernaum, and the rulers would rather the local synagogue pay for the repair materials. Eventually, it’s Gaius who decides to work together with Peter to fix the cistern. Gaius drinks from a flask, and Peter calls him drunk, which Gaius admits may be a little true.
Though fixing the cistern might solve the issue for most women in town, it doesn’t help Veronica, a woman who has had a blood issue for the past 12 years. She cleans blood-stained rags in a spring, and she meets Peter’s wife, Eden, who decides to help her with her laundry. Veronica warns Eden that if she gets any of her blood on her, she’ll be ritually unclean for seven days and won’t be able to touch her husband. “I assure you,” Eden replies suggestively, “I haven’t been touching my husband.”
Indeed, after Peter arrived home for the first time in months, his exhaustion from the trip has caused him to be a bit self-centered. He invites the disciples to the home, creating more work for Eden. It’s clear Eden is quite upset with Peter for another, as yet unrevealed, reason. However, Peter doesn’t initially notice her emotional distance, kissing Eden and making a passive reference to having sex later in the day.
When the disciples arrive at Peter’s home, we find that not all of them are happy with how their respective journeys went, including Big James, who wonders why Jesus gave them “power, but not understanding.” As for Peter, the publicity and crowds of people following them is starting to wear him down, making him a bit upset with Jesus.
Two other people moved by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jairus and the Pharisee Yussif, meet privately. They discuss whether Jesus could be the Messiah, as Jairus’ study of the Torah reveals that He fulfills many of the Old Testament prophecies. Yussif must give a report of Jesus’ sermon to the Sanhedrin, and Jairus is worried that the Sanhedrin is too concerned with tradition to see the truth of the Messiah. So he recommends Yussif send a faulty report to protect Jesus. They’re right to be wary, as the Sanhedrin soon passes an edict to report any person invoking the Messianic title. But when Jairus’ daughter collapses to the ground due to stomach pain (brought on by the diseased cistern), Jairus briefly wonders if he is being punished by God for believing in Jesus as the Messiah.
As for Mary Magdalene, she and Tamar argue over Tamar’s jewelry. Tamar wears the jewelry to honor her ancestors, which Mary says sounds a bit pagan or like animism. The two of them work with Zebedee to produce anointing olive oil to fund the ministry. Zebedee sells his fishing boat to fund the initiative, believing the ministry to be much more important.
Jesus returns to Nazareth to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. While He’s there, He visits His mother, praying with her over their meal. It’s just the two of them, as Mary’s other children, James and Jude, are celebrating elsewhere while Jesus is home, “just to avoid conflict.” Mary asks Jesus who His favorite disciples are, then exclaims that she likes the women with Him as well as Simon the Zealot—since his fighting experience means he can protect Jesus, she jokes. The conversation turns to the painful sacrifice that awaits Jesus as He reminds her that His time is coming, and He must do the will of His father who sent Him.
But because there is still time before that appointed day, Jesus enjoys a festival with childhood friend Lazarus. The two reunite with Dinah and her husband (the two whose marriage Jesus attended and performed His first miracle at). The couple tells Jesus to not be surprised “if some people run out of wine on purpose just to see what [He] will do.” Jesus also speaks with His old rabbi, Benjamin; He is invited to read and interpret Scripture for His old synagogue. A woman comments on rumors that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. “Not the humble Jesus I know,” she laughs.
But Jesus confirms those rumors during His reading. Benjamin precedes Jesus with a prayer for the coming of the Messiah, and Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1-2a before quickly putting the passage away and claiming that “the fulfillment of this Scripture as you have heard it is today.” Benjamin is confused, asking why Jesus did not read of God’s vengeance, and Jesus replies that the Day of Wrath is in the future, but He is here for salvation.
Jesus begins to teach Nazareth about how the Year of Jubilee’s freedom from financial debt is meant to foreshadow God granting freedom from spiritual debt. Benjamin objects to the teaching through grated teeth: “We’re the chosen seed of Abraham,” he says. “We don’t have spiritual debt.” Jesus laments that no prophet is welcome in his hometown, and He also cites how prophets in the Old Testament would offer salvation to Gentiles for their faith as proof that God cares for more than just the Jews—and thus, it is not enough to be of the physical lineage of Abraham.
This culminates in Benjamin charging Jesus with being a false prophet, threatening to execute Him for breaking the Law of Moses. “I am the Law of Moses,” Jesus replies, causing the synagogue to gasp. (That line of dialogue has been among the most controversial on the show thus far, sparking online conversations and commentary about whether it’s a theologically accurate understanding of Jesus’ relationship to Law. Some have also noted a similar wording in a passage from the Book of Mormon, an allegation that show creator Dallas Jenkins has refuted as he talks about the scene and theological criticism of the show here.)
And when they take Jesus away to stone Him, He authoritatively tells them that they will not kill Him yet, and He walks away.
In a subplot, Jesus recalls memories of being Joseph’s son. He remembers Joseph’s instruction, and He clutches a bridle that an ancestor brought into the Promised Land. The undertones of the scene remind viewers how that Old Testament promise ultimately finds its fulfillment in Jesus bringing us into Heaven, the true Promised Land for God’s people.
Roman officials, including Quintus, are increasingly concerned about the number of people following Jesus. Many of them have set up what Quintus dubs a “shanty town” on the edge of Capernaum. He initially orders his men to simply sweep them away. But he’s convinced that a more lucrative response would be to change the town’s city limits in a way that enables him to tax them for being there. The Romans, in general, treat the Jews very shabbily. The one major exception continues to be Gaius, who continues to be both curious about these followers of Jesus and sympathetic to their cause. He’s especially fond of Matthew, and he treats him kindly.
Speaking of Matthew, he and his father, Alphaeus, reconcile, with both apologizing for ways they’ve hurt each other.
Former rabble-rouser-turned-disciple Simon the Zealot, whom the disciples mostly just call Z, is being hunted by the Romans for his previous efforts to destabilize the Roman government.
The conclusion of the episode revolves around Jesus’ somewhat unexpectedly sending His disciples out two-by-two to minister to the broader Jewish community around Capernaum. The disciples are hesitant, confused and scared, not thinking themselves ready for such an assignment. “I’m sending you out, two-by-two, proclaiming as you go, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cast out demons—,” at which point Simon (speaking for his compatriots), tentatively asks, “Uh, how soon are we talking about here?”
Jesus’ doesn’t really calm their anxiety when He then adds that they’re not to take money, food or clothing, and he suggests that they might be killed for the cause: “Listen carefully, all of you. Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.”
“So, you’re saying we could die?” one of His followers asks.
“This will become far more difficult, when persecution is an ever-present part of your ministry. When the time comes, you will follow in My footsteps, and you will know what it actually means to give up your life.” He then emphasizes that taking nothing for the journey is meant to cause them to trust God completely: “For this journey, at least, I want you to learn what it means to fully rely on your Father in heaven, as well as those around you and those whom you serve. … This is what it means to follow and the lead.”
After the meeting, it’s decided that Judas will handle the group’s money and financial needs (after Matthew says no to that responsibility). Jesus also has a very tender conversation with Little James about why He hasn’t healed James’ physical infirmities. He says, in essence, that God is working in and through James’ limitations, and that ultimately James will be healed in the next life—even as James helps people to find God’s healing in this one.
Thomas and Ramah continue to move toward marriage. Quintus is disgusted to find sewage in his drinking water, and that conversation leads to jokes about people relieving themselves.
The first episode of Season Three begins dramatically with a Roman soldier threatening to drag an older man named Alphaeus, the father of Matthew, off to jail for unpaid taxes. Matthew—who’s still extricating himself from his role as a hated tax collector—steps in to forestall the action. But instead of gratitude from his father, Alphaeus disowns his son as a traitor to his people, resulting in deep anguish for Matthew.
The tension in that relationship is quickly contrasted with Jesus’ words coming from His sermon on the mount, from which we hear many familiar lines of Scripture. Jesus’ call to forgive, to be reconciled and to turn the other cheek stuns his listeners. He concludes with the exhortation, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Among the crowd is Judas, who is skeptical but intrigued: “To turn the other cheek and lay up treasures in heaven is a bit naïve,” he says. “But this man has talent!”
Despite what seems to be a cynical take on Jesus, Judas’ interest in following Jesus is sincere and earnest. After Judas brags to Jesus of his financial skills, Jesus asks him if he’s “ready to do hard things.” “Yes, I am ready to do hard things,” Judas replies. “We’ll see,” Jesus says before inviting the man to join His disciples. Later, Judas tells his sister, “I think He’s the Messiah,” Judas says to her. “If He is the anointed one, sister, then He will not be killed. He will defeat the Romans and set us free.”
Following the Sermon on the Mount, a rich and privileged woman named Joanna seeks to give Jesus a message from John the Baptist, who resides in Herod’s prison. Her husband works in the palace, thus granting her access to John. When Andrew, John’s former disciple, hears her news, he begs Jesus to be able to go visit John in prison, which Jesus and Joanna both assent to. There, he has an emotional reunion with his former teacher. Andrew is very much focused on how he might get John out of prison, while John keeps the bigger spiritual picture in perspective: “Andrew, if you want to help me, listen to Him. Go home and do what He says. That’s what I want.”
Thomas, meanwhile, summons his courage to propose marriage to a young woman named Ramah. Simon and his wife, Eden, who’ve been separated for some time, are anxious to rekindle their intimacy. But each time they think they’re alone in their home, someone knocks on the door to interrupt them, enraging Peter and amusing Eden. We later see them in bed together, talking, apparently after being intimate.
There’s a mention of someone’s marriage being violated by adultery.
The first episode of Season Two begins with a flash forward: John is working on his Gospel in the wake of the martyrdom of one of his fellow disciples, and he’s interviewing those closest to Christ—even as he brags that he was there for certain things that the rest of the disciples weren’t privy to. “He loved me,” he tells Jesus’ mother, Mary. “He loved all of you,” Mary says with a smile. “You just feel the need to talk about it more often.”
The episode then picks up where the first season left off: in Samaria. Jesus is in Sychar with most of the disciples, leaving John and his brother, Big James, to plow a field. Why? They speculate that perhaps it’s because they’re such good workers, or out of respect for their hatred of Samaritans. But before the episode’s over, it becomes clear that Jesus is trying to teach them a powerful lesson about love and acceptance.
Most Samaritans seem to appreciate Jesus, but a few spit and throw rocks at him. One disciple begs Jesus to call fire down from heaven to burn Jesus’ harassers alive. Jesus listens to the story of another Samaritan—one who shamefully admits to having attacked a Jew along the road one day (with a couple of others), stealing all of his stuff and leaving the victim on the road, not knowing whether the Jew was alive or dead. The Samaritan broke his leg very shortly thereafter and has been suffering its effects ever since; moreover, he’s deeply sorry about his past actions.
We see Jesus tell a parable or two (with help from the crowd), and we see Him and others in prayer. Jesus also reads from the first scroll of Moses (Genesis) in a synagogue. A miracle is performed, too. When a rich man puts Jesus and his growing band of disciples up for the night, the man warns them that one of the rooms is haunted by his dead grandmother. “Ooh, I’ll take that one,” Jesus jokes. (Later, when James questions him about the “ghost,” Jesus says, “I don’t address everything at once with new converts, James.”)
Peter jokes about John the Baptist (whom he calls “Creepy John”) eating a new bug. Disciples bicker and jockey for position. We see plenty of hostility between Jews and Samaritans—closely related people who nevertheless spent centuries hating each other. Wine is bought and served with dinner.
As Jesus begins His ministry in earnest, He and His disciples leave Capernaum and head (much to His students’ shock) to Samaria, where Jesus meets with a woman at a well.
The episode begins nearly 2,000 years earlier, with a guy named Jacob digging that very well (even though a passer-by says there’s no way that they’ll ever get any water from this rough, dry land). Jacob talks to the stranger about his mysterious God, whom he calls El Shaddai, and admits that God broke his hip. The passer-by doesn’t know why anyone would choose to follow invisible gods that break hips. “We didn’t choose Him,” Jacob says. “He chose us.”
We hear Jesus (obviously) talk about a number of spiritual matters, too. But we also see a sliver of a backstory from the woman before she heads to the well: She tries to exact a divorce from her husband, a document he throws in the fire. “You are my property, Fatima,” he says. “I don’t part lightly from my possessions.” He says this even though, when she first arrives at his house, he wished she was “a thief or a murderer to put me out of my misery.” He calls her latest conquest the “latest shade of drooling tomcat.” And at the market, vendors won’t even turn to face her.
Passing Pharisees are equally shocked by Jesus when they see Him dining with Matthew (a tax collector) and “sinners” from Capernaum’s notorious red quarter. “I have come to call not the righteous, but the sinners,” Jesus tells them, but they seem unimpressed. Another Pharisee introduces an effort to ferret out false prophets—inspired by the eerie way Jesus read his mind in an earlier episode. “It’s about politics and promotion,” Nicodemus sniffs. “On the contrary, teacher, it’s about the law,” the Pharisee says. “And the law is God.”
Simon says goodbye to his wife with a sweet kiss. We hear about acts of violence perpetrated by both Jews and Samaritans against one another. Jesus tells the woman at the well something of her checkered past, including that her second husband’s skin “smelled of oranges” on their wedding night. The disciples fret about possible violence as they head through Samaria. A Roman praetor suggests to his Capernaum adjunct that they step up official brutality to teach the Jewish citizens a lesson. “What use are mounted officers if the people have never seen anyone trampled?” he asks.
Jesus meets with the Pharisee Nicodemus on a rooftop, where Jesus makes some startling revelations. And Matthew, the tax collector, makes a startling decision.
The episode begins with a thousand-year flashback, with Moses crafting a bronze snake that the Israelites can look upon and be saved. Joshua takes issue with the act: “That is a pagan symbol,” he says. “Maybe you misunderstood [God].” Moses responds that he’s learned, painfully, to do what God tells him to do without questioning Him. “It’s an act of faith!” he says. “Not reason. Faith.” Jesus calls Nicodemus’ attention to that story: Just like that snake, “So the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”
We hear references to a case of demon possession that Nicodemus and Jesus both encountered (the latter more successfully than the former). We hear that Nicodemus wants to stay in Capernaum to continue his “research” at the expense of missing his newest grandson’s bris (circumcision) ceremony.
Word is beginning to leak out that Jesus is not just an ordinary craftsman. As He and his disciples travel back to Capernaum, they find—and Jesus cures—a leper on the way.
When they arrive back in the city, a crowd quickly gathers around the house where He’s preaching, forcing the friends of a paralytic man in need of a miracle to lower the man through the roof. The Pharisee Nicodemus is among those who see the miracle, along with his less-accepting pupil, now a powerful Pharisee in his own right.
Beforehand, Nicodemus tried to encourage his one-time student to keep his eyes and mind open for what God might be doing in the here and now, not just in the time when the Torah was being written. “I don’t want to live in some bleak past where God cannot do anything new,” Nicodemus says. “Do you?”
We hear a few parables from Jesus and see, of course, a couple of miracles. We witness the leper’s disfiguring wounds disappear. He forgives the paralytic his sins and tells His audience that people need not use big words while in prayer: “A lot of it is for show, anyway,” He says.
Peter cares for a sick woman staying with his family, softly singing to her as he wipes her brow. (In an earlier episode, we learned the woman was coughing up blood.)
Someone jokes with Jesus, telling the teacher that he heard about His trick with the wine at the wedding. “Can you do that do the well by my house?”
Jesus and His small band of followers go to Cana to celebrate the wedding of a family friend. But things go awry when the wine runs out.
Meanwhile, the rabbi Nicodemus questions the newly imprisoned John the Baptist to see what he might know about the strange exorcism that took place some time ago—an exorcism that would appear to be a miracle.
John and Nicodemus clearly don’t like each other much. John calls the Pharisee out on the extravagance of his “frock,” while Nicodemus accuses John of blasphemy—misquoting Scripture (Nicodemus believes) to suggest that God would have a son. “God does not have a son except for Israel!” Nicodemus says. John holds his ground, though. “Some will not want to waken,” the discomforting prophet says. “They’re in love with the dark. I wonder which one you’ll be?”
Alcohol is obviously a big part of the wedding celebration—and indeed central to the miracle that takes place at the end of the episode. We see people drink wine, discuss its quality and talk about how the beverage can dull the mind (since it’s common practice to serve the bad stuff later on in the celebration).
The actual miracle feels pretty low-key—and one that Jesus performs in private, ordering everyone (including a young, doubting catering expert named Thomas) out of the room. Before leaving to follow Jesus, Simon helps his own wife stomp grapes, and they get a little flirty.
Later, at the wedding, Simon talks with some of Jesus’ other new followers and learns that Thaddeus was called by Jesus when the two were helping to build a latrine. “Our Master building a privy,” Simon marvels. Jesus performs magic tricks for children, too (which look like carnival-type shell games when we briefly see them); and when Simon jokingly asks Jesus if He can do something about the clumsiness of his brother, Andrew, Jesus watches him dance a bit and jokes, “Some things even I cannot do.”
Christ also talks about having been a clumsy teenager. Another disciple, James, jokingly chucks dates from a tree at his fellow travelers.
Simon goes out into the water with Roman soldiers, who are intent upon catching the Jewish fishermen breaking the sabbath (and thus cheating the Romans out of their taxable share). Instead, he steers the boat to a sandbar and runs around. Capernaum’s Roman leader suspects Simon of duplicity, so he sends the tax collector Matthew to follow the man.
Elsewhere, Simon comes clean to his wife, Eden, about the dire financial straits they’re in and tries to work every possible angle to keep from going to prison. Andrew suggests another possibility: trusting the man whom the crazy baptizer John called the “Lamb of God.”
Simon misleads the Romans, tries to keep a sick relative from living with them and has a serious fight with his wife, Eden. When fellow fisherman Zebedee and his sons, John and James, ask how bad things are with Eden, he laments that he could be enjoying his last night of freedom—his last night, in other words, to enjoy Eden’s company—and he’s out fishing.
Simon throws a bit of a fit on his boat in the middle of the night, too. He cries out in anger to God, narrating the blessings and miseries of the Jewish people. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say You enjoy yanking us around like goats and can’t decide whether we’re chosen or not,” he said. When his friends come upon him and ask who Simon was talking to, Simon says, “apparently no one.” But things change in the morning, when Simon and the other fishers come across Jesus preaching to a small group of people by the water. After the sermon, He performs a miracle—telling Simon to cast his nets one more time, after which the fisherman and his friends pull in enough, apparently, to pay off Simon’s debt. (The boat, in fact, nearly sinks from the weight of all the fish.) “Fish are nothing,” Jesus tells Simon, now willing to do anything for the man he now believes is the Lamb of God. “For now on, I will make you fishers of men.”
We hear references to Simon’s past gambling issues and a reference to the “fiery furnace” of hell. Simon threatens to beat a couple of men “with my bare hands.” Someone is so sick that they’re spitting up blood.
The story moves away from many of its central players and focuses on Abigail, a little girl who runs across a strange carpenter camping in the wilderness. She hides from him the first day, but the next she brings along Joshua, a friend of hers. “I didn’t see a sword or anything like that, so I don’t think he’d kill us,” Abigail reassures Joshua. “And he seemed nice. Do you have a sword, just in case?” We hear similar sentiments from other kids in Abigail’s posse (which grows as the episode wears on).
Some are concerned that Jesus (because, of course, it is Jesus) might be a criminal or a murderer. And Jesus himself tells them that it’s good to be careful, because, “There are bad men around.” Jesus actually opens the door to communicating with the kids through a bit of bathroom humor—making retching noises and flatulence noises as a way to break the ice. But Jesus also begins to teach them a bit about His work, too—both that of a craftsman and as someone bringing a startling new message to the world. He leads the children in prayers and encourages them to honor both their teachers and their parents, while reminding them that “many times, smart men lack wisdom.” He gives some sage lessons on justice and encourages them to hold to their faith. And as He does so, Jesus begins to unveil His real purpose. “I have some work to do here,” he says. “And some people to meet.”
The humanity of Jesus is emphasized here. We see Him struggle to start a fire, cook His own supper and engaged in tearful, anguished prayer—all elements that could’ve been a part of Jesus’ life. The only miracle He performs is through prosaic hard work—gifting Abigail a fabulous handmade toy set.
Lilith is now demon-free and calling herself by her birth name of Mary. She’s nervously preparing to host Shabbat for the first time ever, and she receives a very special guest.
Meanwhile, Simon continues to spy on his fellow Jewish fishermen (who are fishing on the Sabbath), while the suspicious tax collector, Matthew, dutifully reports his own suspicions of Simon to the Roman praetor.
As a Jewish tax collector, Matthew is reviled by both Romans and Jews. When he’s preparing to report to the praetor, Matthew’s repeatedly jostled by Roman soldiers, and he’s threatened with death. Later, in his tax collection booth, another Roman soldier sees Matthew with a cut on his face and excrement on his clothes, which the Roman figures were “gifts” from some Jewish citizens who took issue with their taxes.
Simon (the future disciple Peter) buys a number of merchants drinks at the local tavern and jokes heartily with them. “We’re not afraid of you stealing our fish,” Peter tells one with long, flowing locks of hair. “We’re afraid you’ll steal our women!”
Meanwhile, Matthew mentions to the Roman praetor that Simon seems to gamble a lot. Nicodemus, the “rabbi of rabbis” visiting Capernaum from Jerusalem, reads a book on demons and exorcism after his apparently failed cleansing of Lilith/Mary. When he learns that she miraculously was cured after all, he goes to investigate, and he hears from Mary of the mysterious stranger who cured her. “I was one way,” she explains to Nicodemus. “And now I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between, was Him.” We hear the Shabbat ceremony from a variety of points of view.
Peter and Andrew unsuccessfully try to earn some tax money to save their fishing boat. Eventually their livelihoods are saved, at least temporarily, when Peter strikes a deal with a powerful Roman legionnaire. But Andrew believes the deal—which involves Peter ratting out fellow Jews for fishing on the Sabbath—to be immoral.
Meanwhile, a woman named Lilith struggles with demons that the Pharisee leader Nicodemus can’t cast out. It leads Nicodemus to a crisis of faith, and it pushes Lilith to the verge of suicide.
In flashback, we see Lilith as a child in Magdala reciting Scripture with her father, who later dies. She stores that Scripture in an old doll, but later tears the paper up in despair. It’s insinuated that she’s a prostitute. She wakes one day to find her hands covered in blood and a man—his neck also bloody—screaming in the streets.
When Nicodemus comes to cast the demons out, Lilith hisses, “We are not afraid of you. You have no power here, teacher.” Later, a despondent Nicodemus says, “Only God Himself could’ve drawn them out.” (And God, in the form of Jesus, eventually does just that—calling the woman by her given name of Mary.)
We see women of apparent ill-repute hang about Capernaum’s seedy quarter. In flashback, we see a Roman centurion fill Lilith/Mary’s sight, a suggestion that the woman may have been raped. She visits a tavern and gambling center, asking the barkeep (whom someone refer to as a eunuch) for alcohol.
Nicodemus complains of the sinfulness of the city’s fishermen: “Foul-mouthed, given to gambling and secret dens and even fishing on Shabbat,” he says. “Surely the Messiah will not come until this wickedness is purged from our midst.” Peter indeed goes out fishing on the Sabbath to feed his family: He gets into a brawl with his brother-in-law (a common occurrence, it’s suggested). Both deal out plenty of damage, and Matthew walks away with a bloody nose. He says that he has “hands of wine” because of the damage they do to one’s liver. (“It sounded more clever in my head,” he later admits.)
Matthew serves as a “publicanus” (tax collector) for the Romans, though his driver refers to him instead as a “public anus,” thinking it funny. Matthew steps in a pile of dung and retches after doing so. We hear references to hell.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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