The Rev. Rob Courtney & Mtr. Liz Embler-Beazley
Fr. Rob & Mtr. Liz are the magnanimous clergy at St. Paul's Episcopal Church & School
We are screening the first season of The Chosen during this Season after the Epiphany. On Jan. 25 a group of us gathered to watch the fourth episode, "The Rock On Which It Is Built."
We had the largest gathering so far this week! 30 lovely people gathered to eat, watch, and discuss "The Chosen" with us. It was a diverse group that included a fair number of children, who contributed well to the conversation. It is always a joy and a privilege when we can gather as an intergenerational body to grow in our relationships and in our knowledge and love of God.
In this episode, we see the start of Jesus's public ministry. We hear that John the Baptist has been arrested, and Jesus sets about teaching publicly and he begins to call the disciples to follow him. And the creators of "The Chosen" choose to address this in both semi-scriptural and heavily scriptural ways. We hear about John from those who have heard him preach and teach in the wilderness. Andrew, Simon's brother is overwhelmed with joy to share what he heard John the Baptist proclaim, while the Jewish religious leaders speak of him in hushed fearful tones. Funnily, Simon describes him as "Creepy John", letting the viewers know that he is familiar with this wandering, strange preacher. We wonder if John arrived in the French Quarter next week in his strange attire and intense message if we would not have a similar (or even worse) moniker for him. Our group expressed some disappointment that what we learn of John is mostly through the words of other characters and we only see him, darkened by the shadows of his cell, at the very end of the episode.
But the episode is primarily focused upon the mess Simon finds himself in; working with the Romans to report on his fellow Jewish fishermen who fish on the sabbath and thus do not pay a tax on their catch in order to get out of his own outrageous tax debt. The group noted that the cutting of Simon's ear by the Roman soldier at the beach foreshadows Simon-Peter's lashing out with his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. And from there, the episode leans heavily on scripture. We learn that Simon's mother in law is sick, and we, the viewers know that Jesus will soon heal her as told in the gospel of Matthew (8:14). And we see Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Zebedee fish all night long only to catch nothing. Our group loved watching Jesus perform the miracle of the full and overwhelming catch of fish that leads Simon to commit to following Jesus as his disciple. Several commented that watching Jesus's delight at the huge haul of fish was particularly meaningful for them, noting that Jesus is often portrayed as a very serious person, but in this episode, we see him laughing and delighting in the people around him and the miracle he performs. This episode also offers a deeper explanation for the singular line from the gospel of Luke, when Simon says, "Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinner!" (Luke 5:8b CEB). The series creators suggesting that this is not simply a humble proclamation by a faithful man, but rather a real and vulnerable statement by a man who is struggling with the harsh realities of our broken world. And this is also when Jesus calls Andrew, James, and John to follow him as well.
Some of our younger viewers were very interested in exactly how the miracle of the incredibly large catch of fish could have really happened Did a giant school of fish suddenly swim into the nets?! Maybe a bunch of fish were eating all in the same spot?! This is a reaction we all have sometimes when considering miracles. It is a natural human reaction to attempt to find rational explanations for incredible things. But that is the paradox of following our real and living God. We cannot fully understand the amazing ways God provides for us and blesses us, even though we believe fully in God's truth and presence. This is part of the challenge of a life of faith; we are blessed with our rational and creative minds and we are blessed with miracles we cannot explain.
What is is like to imagine Jesus as a joy-filled and happy person?
Do you relate more with the joy of Andrew or the repentance of Simon when they are called by Jesus to be his disciples? Why?
Have you ever struggled with trying to rationally explain a miracle, whether one from scripture or one in your own life? What impact did that have on your faith?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and let's have a conversation! Next Wednesday, we'll be back for episode 5. We hope you can join us! Learn more about our Wednesdays at Church (W@tCh) program here. Hope to see you!