I don’t know about you, but I have never been a big fan of movies or TV shows about Jesus. Part of my apprehension about such movies and shows is that they tend to contradict or diminish the image of Jesus that I have in my head and heart. In addition, the limited “production value” of many of those movies and shows makes it difficult for me to engage with their portrayal of Jesus.
Because of this long-standing unease, I spent several years ignoring the recommendations of some friends of mine to watch the show The Chosen. In case you haven’t heard of The Chosen, it is a multi-season, episode-based, streaming shows that grammaticizes the life and ministry of Jesus. The pilot episode premiered in December of 2017, and the three seasons released so far premiered in 2019, 2021, and 2022, respectively. Three more seasons are planned.
It wasn’t until early 2022 that I finally forced myself to watch the pilot episode of The Chosen and, to my great surprise, I was immediately captivated by the show. Part of the attraction for me was how “real” I found the portrayal of Jesus to be. For example, there are a few scenes in an early episode in which Jesus is interacting with some children that were very moving. Another reason I like the show so much is the imaginative and meditative way that the writers “fill-in” the sparce details from the Gospel accounts, in order to created background stories and plot lines for the different characters portrayed.
I mention this to you because, this past February, I went to the movie theater to watch a limited-time screening of the final two episodes of Season 4. The final scene depicted in Season 4 was Jesus walking on water and Peter’s attempt to do the same, which we hear in this Sunday’s Gospel. While I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it, I must tell you that it was probably the 10 most moving and powerful minutes of movie or television that I have ever seen.
I’m sure that my reaction had to do with where I was in my life and ministry at the time, but watching poor Peter taking one cautious, labored step after another deeply resonated with me. Seeing him go through the water and wail his arms in desperation revealed to me something of what I was experiencing at the time. And watching him back in the boat, being tightly held by Jesus and pleading, “Don’t let go,” moved me to tears.
All of those thoughts and feelings came rushing back into my head and heart at I read and reflected on the Gospel account that we hear proclaimed this Sunday. Thanks to The Chosen, I receive this Word of the Lord with greater appreciation and gratitude. I can “see” myself more clearly in the place of the headstrong and foolish Peter, who struggled to keep his eyes fixed on Jesus and his ears open to Jesus’ encouragement.
Sometimes in life, we step out onto troubled waters because we are trying to test and prove ourselves. Sometimes we step out because it feels like the boat we’re in is sinking and we are desperate to grasp onto something, anything that will rescue us. In such moments, our intentions and desperations only get us so far. But it’s in those moments we can experience the Lord stretching out his hand to us and saying to us, with love and compassion, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After watching the Season 4 finale of The Chosen, I bought a book that a friend recommended to me some years ago. The book is entitled The Lost Art of Walking on Water: Reimagining the Priesthood and was published in 2004. I haven’t gotten around to reading it, but, perhaps, this Sunday’s Gospel will be the impetus I need to finally read it. If it’s anything like The Chosen, which friends had encouraged me to watch, I’m sure it will be a good read.
And perhaps the title of the book gives a way to recognize how what we do at Mass on Sunday can help us to live with greater faith. As we listen to the words of encouragement that Jesus speaks to us through the Scriptures proclaimed and we experience him reaching out to us in the Eucharist that we share, we practice the lost art of walking on water, reimagining and relearning what it means to entrust ourselves to God.