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13 / Entering Fullness

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I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord; “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

the CULTIVATING

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The Chosen – Four Paws, a Tail, and Whiskers

July 3, 2020



“No doubt,” continued Bree, “when they speak of him as a Lion, they only mean he’s as strong as a lion or (to our enemies, of course) as fierce of a lion. Or something of that kind. Even a little girl like you, Aravis, must see that it would be quite absurd to suppose he is a real lion. Indeed it would be disrespectful. If he was a lion, he’d have to be a beast just like the rest of us. Why!” (and here Bree began to laugh) “If he was a lion he’d have four paws, and a tail, and whiskers!”

– The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

Sometimes, I catch myself giving merely a head nod to the full reality of Jesus’s humanity. Intellectually, I can comprehend that the Son of God was born as a human baby, entered into childhood, experienced the awkwardness of the teenage years, and grew into a man. The Gospel writers depict Jesus as feeling emotions like compassion and grief and experiencing physical weariness, hunger, and thirst. All of which reinforces Jesus’s humanity, and yet, it is one thing to grasp something factually and another to understand it deeply, intimately. As Bree the talking horse in C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy found the idea of Aslan as a real lion, with claws and whiskers and four legs and a tail, laughable, so I have often struggled to wrap my mind around the mystery of a fully divine and fully human Jesus. My mind, it seems, can only stretch so far before I begin to lose my grasp on one of those truths.

Recently, I discovered The Chosen, a multi-season show about the life of Christ and the impact He had on His followers, and it has done for me what my own imagination has failed to do. It has invited me to grapple more concretely with the paradox of Jesus’s divine and human nature, to recognize not only His power and glory and participation in the eternal relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but to acknowledge His flesh-and-boneness. His ’embodiedness’. His living, breathing, eating, and sleeping life as a man born into a human family in a village in a culture in a former-nation become province-of-Rome.

In the third episode of The Chosen, viewers are given their first lengthy introduction to Jesus, and we meet Him alone in the dark, weeping in prayer, in a scene that cannot help but feel reminiscent of the Garden of Gethsemane. In prior episodes, we have only seen Jesus onscreen for a few moments at a time, short but meaningful interactions that forever alter the lives of those He meets, and yet leave us looking at Him from a distance. So, I find it interesting that this moment of human frailty is where the writers choose to invite us to enter into His story.

It is, after all, an image we can connect to. How many times have we been brought to our knees in tearful prayer, seeking the Father’s guidance?

I have no doubt that many of us have stories we could share. The instance that immediately comes to my mind occurred several years ago. I had wandered out from a large gathering, out from the light and the laughter and the singing within, out into the dark of a deserted garden where I sat on a bench and tipped my head back to look up at the stars. So far below those tiny shards of light in the vast night sky, I was overwhelmed by the ache of a soul-deep loneliness. Yet in that moment, in that empty place, in my sorrow and loneliness, the image that I couldn’t shake was of Jesus kneeling in a garden long ago, alone and desperate for companionship, even as His disciples drifted off to sleep one by one.

It struck me then that Jesus understands my pain in a way that I can never understand His. That on the cross when the Father did forsake Him, He experienced an aloneness and abandonment that I will never know.

In the weeping, grieving, suffering Christ, I am reminded that I am never alone.

Yet after this emotional opening, this third episode of The Chosen goes on to imagine what an ordinary evening might have looked like for Jesus before the launching of the ministry that we see in the Gospels. We watch as He lights a fire and prepares food. He recites Scripture. He prays. He washes the dust from His feet. And as day ends and night comes in turn, in the rhythms established at the creation of the world, He lays down his head to sleep.

The next morning, He is awakened by a group of curious children and jokingly asks them why they couldn’t have waited another thirty minutes. We watch Him rise and brush his teeth. We see Him set about the work of both His earthly father and His heavenly father as He tells the children about the kingdom while working with His hands as a carpenter. Later, we watch Him bandage a cut and stretch the aches of a hard day’s work from weary limbs.

Something about the simplicity of these sequences, the ordinariness of watching the Messiah going through the recognizable routines of everyday life—rising, eating, working, sleeping, praying—captured my imagination like nothing before. Of course, I knew He must have done all these things, and yet seeing it play out on the screen allowed that truth to sink home in a way that forced me to reckon with my own limited grasp of the concept of Jesus in the flesh. God Incarnate.

As the season goes on, we see Jesus laughing and making jokes with His followers, building toys for children, seeing and healing the broken and unclean, and lovingly interacting with His mother. It is a portrayal of Jesus that feels incredibly alive, incredibly real, and incredibly human. At times, there is something almost uncomfortable about being confronted with the humanity of our Lord and Savior, with seeing Him portrayed as engaging in normal conversation about things like eating goat cheese and dancing.

But it is a beautiful sort of discomfort, I think, as preconceptions are torn down, boxes are shattered, and we are invited to imagine just a little more what it meant for the Son of God to empty Himself and be born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:7)

In these days when the world feels heavy and its brokenness is on full display, when sorrow often feels closer to my heart than laughter, I did not realize how much my soul needed to grasp ahold of the idea of not just a weeping, feeling, and suffering Christ, but a laughing, smiling, and yes, even joking Christ.

In the joyful, caring, laughing Christ, I am reminded that I have an eternal hope.

At its heart, both in its portrayal of Jesus and beyond, The Chosen is a show about people, and it excels at depicting the familiar faces of the Gospels onscreen as real people with real emotions, choices, and problems. You can see it in the smallest details, like the scene where brothers Simon and Andrew set off to meet up with the other disciples for their first journey with Jesus, only to start worrying about whether or not they should have packed lunch. (What if no one else packed lunch? How should one behave as the student of a great teacher?)

Suddenly all those passages in the Gospels where the disciples are concerned about things like food or lodging or about who will or won’t be the greatest in the Kingdom struck me as far less ridiculous and far more relatable. Far more like my own concerns. Standing on this side of Easter and another two thousand years, I can tend to read the Gospels through the lens of a modern mindset. I sometimes falsely assume that I would have somehow known more or been quicker to comprehend in the disciples’ place. At other times, I can feel disconnected from cultural references or concerns, incapable of imagining those Jesus interacts with as anything more than bit parts in a play.

They appear so briefly on the page. It can be easy to forget that they were actual people who lived the same sorts of interconnected, rooted-in-time, often confusing lives that we do. Years ago, I played a role in a community theater production where the director encouraged us to enter into our characters so fully that we knew exactly what unscripted thing they had been doing offstage before entering each scene. Our characters needed to appear to be living, breathing, active human beings, not statues who waited in the wings and came to life only in front of the audience. In order for that to happen, they had to be living in our imaginations backstage and not only in the lines they spoke in each scene.

That simple piece of advice changed how I viewed my character, and in the years since as my creative bent has shifted from the stage to the page, it has shaped how the characters in my novels enter each scene. This is what The Chosen has done for the figures of the Gospels and why it has so quickly become the thing that I tell all my friends about. So much so that if I knew of a way to work on this project, I would drop everything to go do it—barring that, I am eager to support the work that is happening in any way I can. Why? Because it is the sort of Christian storytelling that I have longed for and always dreamed was possible, the sort that I believe the world needs. It bridges the distance that time and cultural differences place between modern readers like me and the writers of Scripture, and it helps bring these historical figures to life beyond the page.

Over the eight episodes of season one, I cannot count how many times I laughed or cried or simply nodded in growing understanding. And now, having finished the season, I am inspired to return to Scripture with fresh eyes. Reading about Jesus in the Gospels where His wisdom, love, and divine power are on display rightfully fills me with reverence and awe for the Son of God. Yet it can also set me at a distance from the staggering truth of Immanuel, God with us, if I do not focus equally on Jesus the son and brother, Jesus who learned His earthly father’s trade, Jesus who walked miles in the dirt and slept on the ground beneath a sea of stars that He knew by name. After all, He is the Lion and the Lamb. The Alpha and the Omega. The Beginning and the End. Jesus, fully human and fully God, is the paradox of all paradoxes.

To even begin to hold onto that truth more firmly, I know that I must come back to the Gospels with my heart, mind, and imagination engaged to see Jesus in all His fullness—or at least as much of it as I can hope to comprehend. Jesus in His humanity and His divinity, with the human version of “four paws, a tail, and whiskers.”



The featured image is courtesy of The Chosen, and Vid Angels’s generously offered media material.

“Jesus heals the leper in episode 6.”  CC Attribution – Share Alike https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/



 

Gillian Adams

comments

  1. Matthew Cyr says:

    My family and I have had the same reaction to The Chosen that you describe here so well, Gillian. The laughter, the tears, being captivated by the realism of it, and the slight discomfort of Jesus seeming so Human. Having the abstraction-Jesus in the mind be kicked over by something more alive. That Lewis quote is just PERFECT for explaining the show and for re-orienting our minds to the truth of what God Incarnate means. Really thankful that you made that connection and shared it with us!

  2. Amy Lee says:

    Gillian, I’ve only seen the pilot episode so far, but your description of this show and this aspect of the Incarnation is captivating.

    This statement — “In these days when the world feels heavy and its brokenness is on full display, when sorrow often feels closer to my heart than laughter, I did not realize how much my soul needed to grasp ahold of the idea of not just a weeping, feeling, and suffering Christ, but a laughing, smiling, and yes, even joking Christ” — made my eyes sting. I don’t think I knew how much I need the same until I read this. Thank you. Off to purchase the rest of the episodes…

  3. Thank you, Matthew, and I love how you put it: “Having the abstraction-Jesus in the mind be kicked over by something more alive.” Perfect description.

  4. Enjoy the rest of the episodes, Amy! I thought each new one was better than the last.

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