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The Chosen – season two, episode three
Mary misses being needed by Jesus, Simon refuses to forgive Matthew, a 13½-minute scene is done in one shot, and more.
Season 2, Episode 3 — ‘Matthew 4:24’
Synopsis. A long line of people are waiting to be healed by Jesus in a field in Syria. The disciples take turns doing crowd control, and the off-duty disciples sit by the fire and talk about their hopes, their childhoods, and how to interpret different prophecies. Jesus’ mother Mary arrives and joins the disciples, and she shares some memories of the night that Jesus was born. She says she misses being needed by him. Simon and Matthew get into an argument, and Simon says he’ll never forgive Matthew for being a tax collector. Jesus, exhausted after a full day of healing people, walks past the disciples on his way to his tent. Mary gets up and helps him get ready for bed.
Gospels. It’s right there in the title: this episode is based on Matthew 4:24, which says:
News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. (NIV)
This episode takes place in Syria, north of Galilee, but the verses immediately before and after this verse indicate that Jesus was probably in Galilee at the time and attracting crowds from a wide range of regions—including Syria, but also “Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan”. Also, it’s quite possible that this gospel was written at a time when the Roman province of Syria had assumed control of the Herodian territories, in which case a phrase like “all over Syria” could have referred to a much wider region than just Syria, per se.
Incidentally, Matthew 4:23 says Jesus was “teaching in their synagogues” as he went through Galilee, proclaiming the good news and healing people—but we still haven’t seen Jesus step inside a Jewish (i.e. non-Samaritan) synagogue at any point in this series. In this episode, he does all his healing in a tent in the middle of an empty field.
Jesus’ mother joins the disciples in this episode—it’s the first time we’ve seen her since S1E5—and she will be with them for the rest of the season.
This is a striking departure from the gospels, where Mary does not appear to be involved with the Jesus movement at all. She appears in the adult Jesus’s life only three times:
she attends the wedding in Cana with Jesus and his brothers (John 2:1-12);
she accompanies the brothers when they try to put a stop to Jesus’ ministry, to which he responds that his true mother and brothers are those who do God’s will (Mark 3:20-35; cf Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21); and
she is one of the women who witness the crucifixion of Jesus (John 19:25-27).
And that’s it!
The wedding at Cana was already depicted in S1E5, and her involvement there had nothing to do with Jesus’ ministry. Indeed, given that, in John’s gospel, the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Jesus (John 7:5) but they too attended that wedding, it stands to reason that the wedding was a family occasion more than anything else.
As for the crucifixion of Jesus, it will be depicted near the end of the series, of course—and because it took place at Passover, one of the largest Jewish feasts, there is no reason to assume that Mary’s presence in Jerusalem signified anything more than the fact that she was a devout Jewish woman making an annual pilgrimage.
So the only story from the gospels that specifically connects Mary to the ministry of Jesus is the one in which his family tries to stop his ministry!—though it’s possible she tagged along to defend Jesus, rather than thwart him. Maybe she didn’t want him to face his brothers all by himself. Either way, the point here is that the biblical story assumes Mary stayed home in Nazareth and did not travel with Jesus—whereas in this episode, she leaves home to join his movement and travel with his disciples.
All that being said, even if Mary did not hang out with the disciples during Jesus’ ministry, she certainly hung out with them after Jesus’ ministry. The last reference to Mary in the New Testament tells us that she and the brothers of Jesus were worshiping with the disciples during the ten-day window between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14).
Mary says Jesus “has always been a worker. He gets that from his father. Both of them, I suppose.” The human father to whom she refers is, of course, Joseph, who is called a tekton in the gospels, a word that is often translated “carpenter” (Matthew 13:55).
Mary also mentions that Joseph passed away at some point in the past.
Joseph’s death and profession were alluded to in S1E6. See my comments there for some of the other possible connotations of tekton, and the evidence re: Joseph’s death.
Mary says she has never had much money in her life, but she’s been happy.
Matthew’s gospel says the Magi gave Jesus and his parents gold, frankincense, and myrrh, all of which were quite valuable (Matthew 1:11). It’s possible the money didn’t last very long—it’s possible that, e.g., Mary and Joseph spent the money while they were refugees in Egypt—but the series hasn’t gotten into that.
Mary Magdalene asks the other Mary how and when she knew who Jesus was. This leads to the other Mary telling the story of Jesus’ birth.
The birth of Jesus is described in two gospels (Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-20) and was already depicted in ‘The Shepherd’; it will be depicted again in ‘The Messengers’—where, again, the birth of Jesus is framed as a story that Mary tells to Mary Magdalene.
Curiously, Mary says nothing about the angel who told her that she was about to become pregnant with the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38).
Mary says she had “no midwife” when she gave birth to Jesus. However, a 2nd-century text known as the Protevangelium of James or Infancy Gospel of James—which was very influential in the early church—says a midwife did attend the birth of Jesus.
When Simon says he’ll never forgive Matthew for being a tax collector, John says, “Who gave you authority? Who are you to forgive or not forgive?”
This sounds like a nod of some sort to Catholic claims about the authority that they believe Jesus gave to Simon Peter and, thus, his successors in the papacy. Those claims are rooted in passages like Matthew 16:18-19 (cf John 20:23).
Simon himself, of course, will need to be forgiven, and to learn about his own need to forgive others, in the near future (e.g. Matthew 18:21-22; John 13:38, 21:15-17).
Jesus looks exhausted after a full day of healing people.
The idea that performing miracles took something out of Jesus is implicit in the story of the woman who was healed just by touching the edge of his cloak; Jesus could tell that someone had touched him because he felt the power go out of him (Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48; cf Matthew 9:20-22). The idea that performing miracles took something out of Jesus could also be inferred from how Jesus retreated to a mountain to pray after feeding the 5,000 (Mark 6:46, Matthew 14:23, John 6:15); in modern parlance, he may have needed a chance to “recharge his batteries” after the miracle.
Mary goes to Jesus’ tent and begins to wash his feet, and Jesus thanks her for this.
All four gospels have stories about women anointing Jesus with perfume, and in two of them they also wipe his feet with the perfume and/or their tears (Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8; cf Mark 14:3-9, Matthew 26:6-13). In Luke’s story, Jesus also chastises his host, a Pharisee named Simon, for not giving him water with which to wash his feet.
Jesus also made a point of washing the disciples’ feet on the night of the Last Supper, to impress on them the idea that they needed to serve each other (John 13:1-17). Mary’s actions here prefigure Jesus’ actions on that future occasion.
Old Testament. Philip gives Matthew a verse to study: “If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” It’s Psalm 139:8.
Thomas quotes Zechariah 14:2-4—parts of that passage, anyway—to explain why he has always expected the Messiah to be a military leader.
This is the passage, with the parts that the episode leaves out in italics:
² For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. ³ Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when he fights on a day of battle. ⁴ On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, and half of it will move north and half of it will move south.
This quotation is interesting, as previous episodes have shied away from some of the more violent aspects of the Old Testament prophecies. ‘The Shepherd’, the show’s “pilot episode”, deleted the more militaristic portions of a prophecy from Micah. And in S1E3, Jesus asked some children where it says in the scriptures that the Messiah will be a military leader, as though this were a self-evidently absurd thing.
Now, the series directly acknowledges one of the more militaristic prophecies—and Philip immediately casts doubt on Thomas’s interpretation of it, calling the prophecy “all this craziness” and saying “we don’t even know when this is going to be, if it’s even in this lifetime.” This parallels similar debates in Christian circles over how to interpret passages that may or may not be about the Second Coming, etc.
The disciples talk about the times when they broke the Jewish food laws.
Thaddaeus admits to trying pork once when he was traveling through a Gentile market. The eating of pigs is forbidden in Leviticus 11:7 and Deuteronomy 14:8, and God chastises the Israelites for disobeying this law in Isaiah 65:4 and 66:17.
Thomas, for his part, admits to eating meat with cheese once. There is no biblical law that explicitly bans the mixing of meat and dairy. There is, however, a rule against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19, 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21), and Jewish tradition has extrapolated from this that dairy should never be mixed with meat of any kind—even the meat of chickens and other land-based animals that don’t produce milk.
(In the hotels I stayed at when I was in Israel a few years ago, dairy products were served only at breakfast and meat products were served only at dinner, to avoid any accidental mixing of the two.)
Not exactly Old Testament, but: Big James quotes a passage that he says comes from “a prophetic poem from the rabbis not so long ago”. The passage itself says:
And there shall be no unrighteousness in them on his day, for they shall all be holy, and their king shall be the lord messiah.
The passage in question is from the Psalms of Solomon, a collection of religious poems that was compiled a century or two before this series takes place. It is not considered scripture by any current religion, though it is included in some copies of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures that also includes the Apocrypha.
Big James cites this passage as an example of the belief, held by some Jews back then, that the Messiah would not come until everyone had become holy—and that the sinfulness of some Jews was holding the Messiah back. Mary Magdalene replies that this passage has it backwards: our holiness depends on the coming of the Messiah, not vice versa.
Themes. The theme that makes the biggest impression may be Mary’s desire, as a mother, to feel needed by her son. Jesus needed her when he was a baby, she says, but he hasn’t needed her for a long time now, and that makes her sad.
Mary goes on to say that she has now joined the disciples so that she can be helpful to them—but then, when she sees how exhausted Jesus is at the end of the day, she immediately goes to his tent and helps him get ready for bed. And he responds to her need to feel needed by saying, “What would I do without you?”
Mary, describing what the birth of Jesus was like, makes a delicate allusion to the fact that she had to “clean him off”. This fits with the show’s focus on the dirt and mess of life in other areas, such as the close-ups of Joseph shoveling manure in ‘The Messengers’.
For what it’s worth, the aforementioned Protevangelium of James depicts the birth of Jesus as a miraculous event with no placenta, no afterbirth, no mess. Mary is in a cave, a light fills the cave, and when the light disappears there’s a baby there.
Jesus spends the entire episode healing people, and Little James worries that people are praising Jesus only because they’re getting something out of him.
Thomas then asks Little James about his own “malady”—Jordan Walker Ross, the actor who plays Little James, has severe scoliosis and minor cerebral palsy—and Little James says he hasn’t figured out whether he should talk to Jesus about it yet.
From the beginning, The Chosen has made a point of including characters with a range of physical and developmental conditions and disabilities. The very first episode established that Matthew is autistic, and a blind woman meets Jesus in the very next episode and appears in a few more episodes after that. (She will appear again at the end of this season, and at the beginning of the next one after that.)
The fact that Little James walks with a limp was reportedly unintentional at first; series creator Dallas Jenkins didn’t notice Ross’s limp during the audition. But instead of trying to hide Ross’s condition, Jenkins asked if he could write it into the character, so that he could explore questions like why Jesus didn’t heal everybody.
That’s a question I’ve sometimes wondered when looking at the healings performed by the apostles in the book of Acts—why didn’t Jesus heal those people on his trips to Jerusalem, etc.?—so it’s interesting to see that question raised here, too.
Simon and Andrew still resent how Matthew treated them when he was their tax collector—which, remember, was only a week or two ago in the timeline of this series.
Andrew says Matthew needs to apologize, but Simon says he doesn’t want an apology, and he says he will never forgive what Matthew did.
While Simon will presumably learn to forgive at some point in the future, series creator Dallas Jenkins has pointed out that Simon isn’t entirely wrong: Matthew really did betray his people, and Matthew really hasn’t tried to make any amends for that yet.
For comparison, consider how the tax collector Zacchaeus responded to the call of Jesus by instantly promising to repay everyone he had cheated, and to give half of his possessions to the poor (Luke 19:1-10). Matthew has done nothing like that yet.
Philip tells Matthew to write down the scriptures he’s memorizing. He says writing things down can go a long way, and Matthew agrees. This fits with what Matthew said in S2E2 about writing the words of Jesus down to preserve what he said.
Historical quibbles. The male disciples talk about attending beth midrash, a school for studying the Torah, when they were boys. It is not clear to me whether any schools of that sort would have existed when this series takes place. The Jewish Encyclopedia says boys were typically taught by their fathers, and the schools that did exist in some country towns “were intended only for youths of sixteen and seventeen years of age who could provide for themselves away from home.” It goes on to say:
The high priest Joshua b. Gamla instituted public schools for boys six and seven years of age in all the cities of Palestine, and on this account he was praised as the man who prevented teaching in Israel from being altogether neglected.
Joshua ben Gamla was high priest circa AD 65—almost 40 years after this episode takes place, and another decade or two after these characters were boys—so it seems unlikely that the schools he created would have existed when the disciples were young. Indeed, Wikipedia says the origins of the beth midrash go back to the AD 70s.
Jesus recites the Bedtime Shema, which comes from the rabbinic period, some time after the period in which this series is set, and thus may be a bit anachronistic. Jesus also recited this prayer before going to sleep in S1E3.
Geography. Jesus’ mother Mary arrives and says she was “dropped off” by some friends who were visiting the region. How far away did they drop her off? Also, considering that Jesus and his followers had to walk through Galilee (in S2E2) to get to Syria after visiting Samaria (in S1E8 and S2E1), why didn’t Mary meet them in Galilee?
Miracles. Jesus performs many healings throughout this episode, albeit offscreen.
Little James expresses concern that people are interested in Jesus only because he is healing them, i.e. because they are getting something out of him.
Interestingly, Biblical Archaeology Review posted an article last week looking at how Matthew 4:23-24—the very passage that this episode is named after—was written on an Egyptian amulet from the 6th or 7th century. Apparently someone back then thought that wearing a piece of parchment with this passage on it would, itself, offer supernatural protection from illness and other kinds of harm.
Early church leaders condemned the use of amulets as a form of pagan superstition, but the practice persisted for a long time. The fact that someone used this passage this way kind of underlines Little James’s concern that a lot of people are coming to Jesus not for his teaching but mainly because he is useful to them.
Humanization. Thomas says he lost his father when he was young, and when he learns that Jesus lost his father too, he says he’ll have to ask Jesus about that.
This is something we don’t see very often in Jesus films: people identifying with Jesus on the basis of shared or similar experiences. Even more rare are films in which Jesus is the one who identifies with others; an example of that would be Last Days in the Desert, in which Jesus identifies with a young man’s tense relationship with his father.
Mary’s expressions of maternal longing for Jesus—and her readiness to help Jesus when he is exhausted—also deeply humanize both of those characters.
Timeline. This episode appears to take place the day after the previous episode. In that one, Jesus and his followers were spending a night in Caesarea Philippi on their way to Syria; in this one, Big James says they walked for almost four hours “this morning” and “didn’t even have a moment to settle in” before Jesus started healing people.
Language. Little James says Thomas is “scary good” at a game they’re playing.
Miscellaneous. The episode begins with a single, unbroken 13½-minute shot. It’s one of several ways that this series plays with form and structure this season.
The producers have suggested that a shot like this is unprecedented for a TV show, but that isn’t quite true; one thinks of the 10½-minute prison-fight scene in a Season 3 episode of Daredevil, and I have heard of other examples like an episode of Psychoville that used just two shots in half an hour, or an episode of The Haunting of Hill House that consisted of just five shots—one of which lasted 17 minutes. There are also entire films that have been done in one take, like Timecode, Russian Ark, and Victoria.
But shots of that length are still pretty rare, and a good sign of creative ambition.
In this case, the shot allows the audience to experience a sunset in real time, which gives the audience a sense that the disciples really are coming to the end of a busy day.
This is also the first episode of this series to begin without a pre-credits sequence—presumably because the episode had to start with the 13½-minute shot, which sets the tone for the episode by establishing that the disciples are starting to wind down for the night. Neither a short scene before the credits, nor a credits sequence in the middle of the 37-minute episode, would have made sense from a pacing perspective.
This is also the first episode to not have any music over the end credits.
The Chosen interviews:
Season 1: Dallas Jenkins, co-writer/director (Dec 2019)
Season 2: Dallas Jenkins, co-writer/director (May 2021) | Derral Eves, producer, on Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers (Nov 2021) | Dallas Jenkins on the ‘The Chosen Is Not Good’ marketing campaign (Apr 2022)
The Chosen recaps:
The episode was also livestreamed on April 13, 2021, with an intro by director Dallas Jenkins; the episode itself begins at the 1:20:19 mark:
The 13½-minute opening shot is also online:
And so is a clip of Mary remembering Jesus’ birth:
Jenkins also posted a “reaction video” responding to comments about the episode:
Also, in a livestream on May 11, 2020, Jenkins previewed the part of the script in which Mary Magdalene says the Messiah isn’t waiting for everyone to be holy (at the 44:00 mark), as well as the part in which the other Mary describes Jesus’ birth (at the 52:30 mark):
And, in a livestream on July 19, 2020, Jenkins and several of the actors previewed a long excerpt from the script (including the part where Mary describes Jesus’ birth):
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