The Chosen — season one, episode five

The Chosen — season one, episode five June 25, 2020

Season 1, Episode 5 — ‘The Wedding Gift’
Luke 2; John 2

Synopsis. Mary is looking for 12-year-old Jesus in the streets of Jerusalem. Joseph finds him in the Temple, and Mary asks Jesus to help them “get through all this” as he matures into his spiritual destiny. Eighteen years later, Mary goes to Cana to help Dinah, an old family friend, prepare for her son’s wedding. Simon goes home and tells Eden he has left his nets to follow Jesus; to his surprise, Eden is happy to hear this. Simon and Andrew join Jesus and the other disciples as they go to Cana to attend the wedding. The wedding runs out of wine, and Mary asks Jesus to intervene. Jesus, after some initial resistance, fulfills her request and changes some water to wine, knowing that he is now inaugurating the public part of his ministry. Thomas, the man who provided the wine, is puzzled by what he has seen, and Jesus tells Thomas to meet him in Samaria in 12 days. Meanwhile, Nicodemus doesn’t get the answers he’s been looking for from John the Baptist.

Gospels. This episode is based primarily on two stories from the gospels: the finding of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem when he was 12 years old (Luke 2:41-52), and the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned water to wine (John 2:1-12).

This is the first episode of the series proper to depict Mary and Joseph (though of course we saw them in the pilot episode, which dramatized the Nativity).

Interestingly, both of the biblical stories adapted in this episode refer to other relatives of Jesus besides his parents, but the episode itself keeps only one of those references.

Luke 2:44 says Mary and Joseph had been traveling home from Jerusalem for a full day before they noticed Jesus was missing, and they began to panic when they realized he was not “among their relatives and friends”. The episode nods to this last detail when Mary tells Jesus, “You were supposed to be riding in the caravan with Uncle Abijah.”

Meanwhile, John 2:12 indicates that the “brothers” of Jesus were at the wedding in Cana too, and it says they went down to Capernaum afterwards with Jesus, Mary and the disciples — but the brothers of Jesus are never depicted in this episode.

The omission of the brothers from this episode is all the more striking when you consider the scene in which Jesus tells Mary Magdalene she will soon have “twelve brothers”, i.e. the disciples. (At this point in the series, Jesus has only six male disciples.)

Jesus is speaking metaphorically in that scene, but does he have any brothers literally?

John 2:11 says the miracle at Cana, when Jesus changed water to wine, was “the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

This is often taken to mean that Jesus had not performed any other miracles yet.

But at this point in the series, Jesus has already cast demons out of Mary Magdalene (as per Luke 8:2) and given Simon a miraculous catch of fish (as per Luke 5:1-11). What’s more, the catch of fish plays a key role — in both Luke’s gospel and The Chosen — in the calling of Jesus’ first disciples. So how could Jesus go to the wedding in Cana with his disciples if he had not performed that miracle and called his first disciples yet?

This episode’s solution to the problem is to draw a clear line between private miracles and public signs — and it makes this distinction in the dialogue more than once.

Mary Magdalene’s exorcism and Simon’s miraculous catch of fish are private miracles that bind the recipients to Jesus. But changing the water to wine at a large social gathering is a public sign witnessed by many people — although it’s not clear how many of them, aside from Jesus’ mother and followers, even know that a miracle happened, there.

Previous episodes introduced disciples (or disciples-to-be) Simon, Andrew, James, John, Matthew, Thaddaeus, and the other James. This episode adds Thomas to the mix.

Thomas is listed with the Twelve in all three Synoptic gospels (Mark 3:18, Matthew 10:3, Luke 6:15; cf. Acts 1:13), but John’s gospel is the only one in which he does anything.

Most famously, Thomas refused to believe that the Resurrection had happened until he saw the risen Jesus for himself (John 20:24-29), but he is also quoted in the stories about the raising of Lazarus (John 11:16) and Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he was arrested (John 14:5), and he was one of the disciples who took part in the second miraculous catch of fish, sometime after the Resurrection (John 21:1-14).

Thomas is not yet a member of the Twelve when this episode ends. Instead, he is a wine merchant who caters the wedding at Cana, and — because the biblical Thomas is best known as a doubter — he is presented as someone who thinks things through and plans ahead and asks questions when something confuses him. Jesus, in this episode, assures Thomas that “it is good to ask questions, to seek understanding.” But when Jesus invites Thomas to join his group and tells him to meet them in twelve days, the woman who helps Thomas serve the wine tells him, “Maybe for once in your life, don’t think.”

Jesus has only six male disciples so far but already two of them share a name, James, so he proposes calling one of them “Big James” and the other one “Young James”.

However, as we noted when looking at Episode 2, it is not at all clear that the person in the gospels known as James the Lesser (or “Young James”) was one of the Twelve.

The lists of the Twelve in the gospels do mention two men named James, i.e. James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus — but James the Lesser is only mentioned by that name once, in Mark 15:40, to help distinguish his mother Mary from the other Marys in the gospels. If James the Lesser was identical to James the son of Alphaeus, his mother Mary would have been the wife of Alphaeus — so couldn’t Mark’s gospel have simply called her “Mary the wife of Alphaeus”, the way John’s gospel refers to “Mary the wife of Clopas” (John 19:25)? Also, Mark says James the Lesser had a brother named Joses, who does not appear to have been one of the Twelve at all — so if Joses wasn’t one of the Twelve, there is no reason his brother James had to be one of them either.

Admittedly, a lot of people have speculated over the years that James the Lesser and James the son of Alphaeus were one and the same — so there is certainly a precedent for how this series conflates them. Some have gone even further and have argued that both men were identical to James the brother of Jesus. (There were a lot of Jameses back then.)

But I don’t think the evidence is compelling enough to conflate any of them.

Incidentally, Jesus will eventually have two disciples named Simon, too. Just speculating here, but maybe we’ll see Jesus give the current Simon the nickname “Peter” when he recruits that other Simon, who is known in the gospels as “Simon the Zealot”.

Thaddaeus mentions that he met Jesus while they were working on a construction job in Bethsaida. Simon doesn’t mention it, but he and Andrew both came from Bethsaida originally (John 1:44), though they are currently living in Capernaum.

Simon asks if Jesus is a stonemason like Thaddaeus, and Thaddaeus replies that Jesus is a “craftsman”. This is the word that Jesus used to describe himself in Episode 3.

The word itself is a translation of tekton, a Greek word that is applied to Jesus just once in the gospels — in Mark 6:3 — and is usually translated “carpenter” but has a wider range of meanings and connotations. See the Episode 3 recap for more details.

Simon tells his wife Eden he will be traveling with Jesus a lot, and he says he doesn’t want her to feel abandoned. There is no equivalent scene in the gospels, but the biblical Simon does mention that he and the others have “left everything” to follow Jesus, and he asks what their reward will be — to which Jesus replies that everyone who has left homes and families for his sake will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:27-29; cf. Luke 18:28-30).

As it happens, the only direct reference to Simon’s wife in the entire Bible tells us that she traveled with him, at least in the years after Jesus’ ministry (I Corinthians 9:5).

Incidentally, the theme of people leaving their families is sort of echoed in this episode by Thaddaeus, who says “every man must leave his father” when explaining why he pursued stonemasonry instead of becoming a smith like his father — but the context for that line has nothing to do with leaving family to follow Jesus, per se.

This episode features several scenes of Nicodemus speaking to John the Baptist while the latter is in prison. Most of the biblical information about John was conveyed in the previous episode, but this episode alludes to a few other passages as well.

For example, the biblical John was thought by some to be possessed (Matthew 11:18, Luke 7:33). This episode doesn’t quite show people reacting to John that way, but Nicodemus does say that he can tell John is not insane, which opens up the possibility that others might perceive him that way, and madness is often associated with possession.

Also, John explains his mission by recalling how people prepared the way for Caesar by saying, “Make straight the way for the king! Prepare the way!” This is very similar to a passage from Isaiah 40:3 that all four gospels say was fulfilled by John. In Mark 1:3, Matthew 3:3 and Luke 3:4, the narrators quote this passage to explain John’s mission, while in John 1:23, it is the Baptist himself who quotes this passage.

John the Baptist also says that some people will not want to hear the Messiah’s message because “they are in love with the dark”. This parallels the opening verses of John’s gospel, which say John the Baptist was a witness to “the light” that was Jesus, and “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Old Testament. John the Baptist and Nicodemus refer to the Old Testament a few times during their conversation.

John says the Pharisees “would have labeled Moses a lunatic for talking to a shrub” (though Moses actually talked to an angel that appeared in the burning bush; cf. Exodus 3:2, Acts 7:30), and he quotes a portion of the oracle of Agur from Proverbs 30:4:

Who has ascended into heaven and come back down?
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?

Nicodemus replies that the “son” of God described in that oracle is the entire nation of Israel, but John — and through him, the series as a whole — hints strongly that the passage is ultimately about Jesus. This interpretive trajectory is reflected in the gospels. God calls the Israelite nation “my son” in passages like Exodus 4:22-23 and Hosea 11:1, and the latter of those passages is quoted by Matthew 2:15 and applied to Jesus.

As per above, John also nods to Isaiah 40:3 when he talks about making paths straight.

When Simon tells Eden about how he immediately dropped his nets to follow Jesus, he compares this to how Elisha dropped everything to follow Elijah (I Kings 19:19-21).

The wedding guests dance while singing ‘Od Yishama’, a Jewish wedding song based on Jeremiah 33:10-11. I don’t know how far back this wedding tradition goes.

The wedding guests also talk about dancing to ‘The Song of Miriam’, which comes from Exodus 15:21 and echoes the first line of ‘The Song of Moses’ in Exodus 15:1.

Themes. The central theme of this episode is Jesus’ relationship with his mother Mary.

Mary plays a key role in the prologue, as one of two parents who are looking for Jesus in Jerusalem; and she is central to the wedding in Cana, both as a friend of the groom’s family, who helps with the wedding preparations (a detail not found in the gospels), and as the person who asks Jesus to help when the wine runs out (as per John 2:3-5).

So the two stories are linked on a narrative level by the presence of Mary, but they are also linked through the filmmakers’ storytelling technique. They are linked visually, by the use of close-ups shot from Jesus’ point of view as Mary looks him in the face and says “please”; and they are linked verbally, by the line “If not now, when?” which Jesus says to Mary when he is a child, and which she says to him years later when he is an adult.

The visual connection draws us into the continuity of Jesus’ relationship with his mother; he looks in her face and heeds her plea when he is an adult, just as he looked in her face and heeded her plea when he was a child. But the verbal connection emphasizes the reciprocity of his relationship with his mother; just as he once nudged her to let him move ahead with his spiritual destiny, now she is nudging him to take the next step.

The reciprocity is further heightened by the music on the soundtrack. When Mary pleads with Jesus in both stories, the close-ups on her face are accompanied by a voice on the soundtrack that is reminiscent of the one we heard when Jesus appeared to other people in earlier episodes. Just as Jesus had a powerful spiritual effect on other people, so too, the music implies, his mother is having some sort of spiritual effect on him.

It’s no wonder, then, that when Jesus and the disciples are on their way to the wedding, Jesus tells them his mother is “the most important and powerful person I know.”

Incidentally, the wedding-in-Cana story is often used by evangelicals to play down the notion that Mary enjoyed any sort of special relationship with Jesus.

The fact that Jesus calls Mary “woman” rather than “mother” in John 2:4 has often been cited as evidence that he was putting her in her place — and this interpretation is so common that the New International Version of the Bible had to add a footnote to this verse cautioning that “The Greek for Woman does not denote any disrespect.”

Other translations have rendered the Greek word in question as “dear woman” to convey the idea that Jesus was actually treating Mary with respect even in that moment.

The makers of this series come from an evangelical background, so it is noteworthy that they do not use this story to marginalize Mary in any way. If anything, they make her a more prominent part of the story — and they steer around the translation issues surrounding the word “woman” by having Jesus call her “mother” instead.

The episode is primarily about a wedding taking place in Cana. But it also has a scene that focuses on the existing marriage between Simon and his wife Eden.

This scene marks the first time Simon has seen his wife since their argument in Episode 4, when she told him, “You haven’t pursued the Lord lately, not like the man I married.” Now, one day later, Simon tells Eden that he has left his nets to follow the Messiah. He is expecting her to be upset, but she isn’t. “This is the man that I married,” she says.

Simon and Eden then have a moment of playful intimacy as he joins her in the winepress and they recall the details of their own wedding, however long ago that was.

The episode also draws attention to the fact that the miracle of the water turning to wine is performed with water that has been poured into stone jars.

The stone is significant for two reasons:

First, Thomas explains that water for purification is kept in stone jars like these because they cannot be unclean, and they are harder to stain or break.

And second, Thaddaeus explains that stonemasonry, unlike smithwork, is more final: metal can always be put back in the fire and reshaped, but once you make that first cut in the stone, “it can’t be undone. It sets in motion a series of choices.” So, just as the stonemason commits himself to a course of action with his very first cut, so too Jesus is committing himself to a certain path by performing his first public miracle.

Simon asks why Jesus didn’t heal the cripples instead of building ramps for them to get to the latrines. The answer within the episode has something to do with the idea that Jesus has not performed any public signs yet, so he was keeping his power secret at the time.

But it’s a good question: Why didn’t Jesus perform more miracles? It’s a question I’ve certainly thought about in connection with the story in Acts 3, where Simon heals a cripple in the Temple some time after Jesus has ascended. Jesus spent a lot of time in the Temple and healed some people there, but it seems he didn’t heal everyone.

Historical quibbles. John the Baptist asks Nicodemus if he remembers when Caesar came to Judea. At this point in time, there had been only two Roman emperors — Augustus and Tiberius — and to my knowledge, neither of them ever traveled to Judea. Instead, they tended to summon the Herods and others to come and see them in Rome.

Nicodemus says he is taking an active interest in John the Baptist’s imprisonment by the Romans because John is “a Jewish citizen” and it would set a dangerous precedent to let Rome adjudicate when someone is accused of breaking Jewish law.

The Romans certainly had a concept of “citizenship” that went beyond mere ties of kinship — the benefits of which were shared with certain people only — but I’m not sure that any first-century Jews would have applied the concept to their own culture.

However, this dialogue may be setting up a concept that will be significant later on, when the Sanhedrin debates whether to arrest Jesus and turn him over to the Romans.

Simon remembers how Eden got tangled up in their chuppah when they got married. This seems to reflect the current Jewish tradition whereby couples get married under a canopy, known as the chuppah — but this tradition only goes back to the 16th century.

In biblical times, the chuppah was a tent or room in which the newlyweds had sex for the first time while the wedding guests waited for the bridegroom to emerge with the bedsheet proving the bride’s virginity. The canopy that is now used in Jewish weddings began as a symbol of the tent in which the marriage was consummated (similar to how communion was once a full meal and is now little more than a symbol of a meal).

Eden also recalls how Simon’s brother Andrew gave a “toast” at their wedding. This feels like another modern element, but that may have more to do with the word “toast” than the actual practice of sharing drinks in celebration, which seems natural enough.

Also, as per above, I do not know how far back the wedding song ‘Od Yishama’ goes.

Before going to Cana, Simon casually tells Andrew they are “travel[ing] with the Messiah”. Andrew himself had already told Simon that Jesus was “the Messiah” in Episode 4.

There’s an interesting tension in the gospels regarding who knew Jesus was the Messiah and when.

In the Synoptic gospels, none of Jesus’ followers call him that until well into his ministry, when Jesus asks who people say he is and Simon replies that Jesus is the Messiah — and this is presented as a significant turning point in the story. Jesus then tells the disciples to keep his Messianic identity a secret (Mark 8:27-30, Matthew 16:13-20, Luke 9:18-21).

But John’s gospel says Andrew was calling Jesus “the Messiah” before Simon had even met Jesus (John 1:40-42). What’s more, various other characters in that gospel call Jesus the Messiah too, and Jesus publicly proclaims his divinity at several points in the story.

So this series would seem to be closer to John’s gospel in this regard, then.

Eden is treading grapes outside her house when Simon speaks to her. I would be curious to know how common it was for people to tread their own grapes like that at home, as opposed to doing it communally or on a farm (cf. Mark 12:1, Matthew 21:33).

Geography. No one knows exactly where the biblical Cana was; no fewer than five sites — four in modern Israel and one in Lebanon — have been associated with that town. Google Maps says it would take about seven and a half hours to walk to the Israeli sites from Capernaum, while the Lebanese site is three to four times further away.

Miracles. See all the notes above, re: the water being turned to wine.

Humanization. This episode’s focus on the relationship between Jesus and his mother humanizes Jesus in a way that none of the previous episodes have even tried.

While Jesus has generally behaved in a casual and human way in this series, most of the previous episodes have kept him offscreen until the final scenes, treating him in effect as a deus ex machina who steps into the lives of others and makes things all right. The one exception was Episode 3, in which Jesus befriended some children and taught them a few lessons — so even there, Jesus was presented as an authority figure to look up to.

But this episode actively encourages us to identify with Jesus by allowing us to see what he sees and to even feel what he feels, at least up to a point.

It does this most notably through its use of point-of-view shots. As noted above, the prologue in Jerusalem and the wedding in Cana are linked by shots of Mary looking into Jesus’ face. But the episode also ends with point-of-view shots of Jesus and Mary looking at each other across the wedding feast as she says a silent “thank you” to him.

And then there are the private point-of-view shots, such as when Jesus looks into the jar with the water that is about to be transformed, and he sees his own reflection.

Aside from that, Jesus continues to be as casual and relatable as before. He plays games with the children at the wedding, and he recalls his own childhood when he tells the disciples about how he once cracked his own head while playing at the groom’s house.

Jesus is also very physical. He lifts Mary off the ground when he hugs her (similar to how he splashed her with water and embraced her in The Passion of the Christ), and he dances enthusiastically with the other wedding guests (which has been a common feature in films like The Last Temptation of Christ, The Revolutionary and Roger Young’s Jesus).

The parents of Jesus are also fairly casual and human. Joseph jokes about punishing the 12-year-old Jesus by getting him to rub Mary’s feet (another physical gesture!), and Mary mimes having a pregnant belly to remind her friend why her wedding was different.

Simon is startled when he learns that Jesus worked on a “latrine” or “privy”. Something about the Messiah working on human waste disposal seems a bit off, to him.

As it happens, the Jesus of the gospels actually mentions such facilities, and in language that might be coarser than we expect. In Mark 7:19 and Matthew 15:17, he tells the disciples that food cannot make a person unclean because it goes through the stomach and out into the aphedron — a word that some translators actively try to avoid.

The King James Version of the Bible translates aphedron as “draught”, and other versions use words like “drain” or “sewer”. But the Revised Standard Version omits the word entirely and simply says the food “passes on”, while the New International Version simply says the food goes “out of the body”. The New American Standard Bible tries to have it both ways, simply saying in the main text that the food “is eliminated”, but then admitting in a footnote that the literal translation would be “goes out into the latrine”.

For his part, Thomas Cahill argues in Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus that aphedron should be translated “shithole” because, he claims, aphedron was “Macedonian slang that would have sounded barbarous to Greek ears.” He adds, “Jesus was not bashful about referring to bodily functions, even if his translators are.”

So, yes, Jesus talked about privies, and used them, and quite possibly built them, too.

Timeline. The entire episode appears to take place on the same day that Jesus gave Simon the miraculous catch of fish; at any rate, Simon tells Eden he and the others are leaving for Cana that day. So if Episode 4 concluded on a Wednesday, this one does too.

In John’s gospel, the wedding in Cana takes place on “the third day” after John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus is “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29-34, 2:1). The first day after the Baptist’s proclamation was when Jesus called Andrew and Simon (John 1:35-42), and the second day was when Jesus called Philip and Nathanael (John 1:43-51).

Philip and Nathanael have not appeared in this series yet, but director Dallas Jenkins recently revealed that they will be introduced in Season 2.

The plot thickens again!

You might recall that there are two different versions of Episodes 1 and 2 out there. The versions released a year ago set the series in AD 30, while the versions that are now streaming on the app — and the versions that were livestreamed earlier this year — set the series in AD 26. (Episodes 3 and 4 don’t specify when they take place.)

Now there are two versions of Episode 5, too. The version that is streaming on the app is set in AD 26, just like the other episodes on the app (and the prologue is set in AD 8) — but a version that was livestreamed earlier this year was set in AD 30 (and AD 12).

Director Dallas Jenkins and one of his religious consultants actually discuss this in the roundtable discussion for Episode 5, available via the app. Apparently, when the discussion was recorded last year, all of the episodes were set in AD 30, but Jenkins admits that he should probably change this. It seems he did at some point.

I noted in the last recap that John the Baptist was imprisoned by the Romans in Episode 4, whereas the John of the gospels was imprisoned by Herod Antipas.

However, in the roundtable discussion, Jenkins reveals that John’s imprisonment in these episodes is not the same as the imprisonment that the Bible describes. So apparently John will get out of prison at some point, only to be thrown back in again.

Language issues. The characters throughout this series have usually called their parents “Abba” and “Eema” (the Hebrew words for “father” and “mother”). But in this episode, Simon asks Andrew if he remembers when “Dad” taught them how to fish.

Miscellaneous. John the Baptist complains that Nicodemus’s clothes are so expensive he could have fed three children in Nazareth for a month with the money it cost to buy them. This certainly sounds like the sort of critique a social justice-minded prophet would make, but it also sounds curiously reminiscent of Judas’s complaint that Mary of Bethany wasted too much money when she poured perfume on Jesus’ feet (John 12:1-8).

There may be an echo here of the difference that Jesus noted between John’s austerity and his own approach to life (e.g. “John came neither eating nor drinking” whereas Jesus “came eating and drinking”, as per Matthew 11:18-19 and Luke 7:34-35).

The bit about Jesus building a latrine fits with the more scatological elements in Episode 1, where Matthew steps in dog poop and his driver calls him a “public anus”.

FilmChat recaps: zero | one | two | three | four | five | six | seven | eight

The Chosen can be streamed in full via VidAngel or the show’s app (Android | Apple).

Clip: The wedding at Cana:

Clip: Changing water to wine:

The entire episode was also livestreamed on April 2, with an intro by director Dallas Jenkins and a chat with Vanessa Benavente, who plays Mother Mary.

TV show recaps:
Prophet Joseph | The Bible | A.D. The Bible Continues | Of Kings and Prophets

Movie scene guides:
Risen | The Young Messiah | Paul, Apostle of Christ | Mary Magdalene


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