Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat (Exploring The Chosen with Youth)

Updated: Aug 14

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Last week, we looked at how to use episode 1 of The Chosen (VidAngel's streaming adaptation of the Gospels) to discuss the character of Mary Magdalene (Lilith) and what it means to have a life-changing encounter with Jesus. This week, we'll look at how to use episode 2 of The Chosen to help youth understand Shabbat and the contrast between the feast of Mary Magdalene among the outcasts and the feast of Nicodemus among the Pharisees. Because Shabbat (that is, Sabbath) is such a foreign process to my very busy youth, I really appreciated how this episode of The Chosen presented a beautiful picture of the practice, while also showing the abuse of it.


Intro to The Chosen Episode 2: What is Shabbat?

Although each episode of The Chosen follows several characters (Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, Matthew, Simon, Andrew, and of course Jesus all feature prominently, and there are several other smaller biblical characters like Thaddaeus and James), I find that it works best to center the discussion of it around just one or two main themes. This episode's main theme is obvious: the Sabbath/Shabbat.


Many youth are not familiar with the ancient Jewish practice of Shabbat. The main context they've encountered it in have probably given them a bad impression: it features most prominently in the Gospels as a legalistic sledgehammer that the Pharisees use to try to smash the Jesus movement. It's possible then that your students may associate Shabbat with legalism or works-righteousness. That's why I'd suggest beginning your time with some discussion of God's original purpose for Sabbath. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • When you hear the word Sabbath or Shabbat, what other words or phrases come to your mind?

  • Do you mostly have positive or negative associations with Sabbath?

  • (If your youth mention legalism:) Do you think there was a non-legalistic purpose God had for Sabbath?

Then you can show this helpful explainer video from the Bible Project:

After watching the video, you could ask:

  • What was God's purpose for creating the Sabbath and other festival times?

  • How does the Sabbath point forward to Jesus?

If your youth ask why you're spending so much time talking about the Sabbath, explain that it's central to the plot of episode 2.


Viewing The Chosen Episode 2

Due to COVID restrictions, my youth group watched The Chosen online using Zoom. You can find episode 2 on YouTube here. If you want to avoid the ads (there's a lot!) or the need to stream it, you can find the Blu Ray here on Amazon.

While watching The Chosen, I made occasional comments through the chat but I tried to not do too much teaching. I wanted the youth to enjoy it and not just see The Chosen as an elaborate preaching illustration. For the most part, I just clarified who characters were (especially if anyone missed episode 1!) and occasionally I briefly explained a reference or allusion that was confusing to my youth.


Discussing The Chosen Episode 2

To begin your discussion of The Chosen episode 2, I'd invite your to discuss a couple questions:

  • How many Shabbat meals did the episode portray? [Mary's, the Pharisees', Eden's, & Matthew's]

  • Which meal do you think you would want to attend?

  • What did Mary's Shabbat mean to her? [it signaled Mary's freedom from the demon & the new life Jesus had given her]

  • What did the Shabbat of Nicodemus and the Pharisees mean to them? [it was a chance for them to show how important and righteous they were]

  • What are some of the other differences you noticed between the Shabbat of Mary and the Shabbat of Nicodemus and the Pharisees? [ex. who got invited? what did they focus on?]

  • Why do you think Jesus chose to attend the Shabbat of Mary?

Explain that The Chosen uses the differences between Mary's Shabbat and the Shabbat of Nicodemus the Pharisees in order to show the contrast between two very different visions of what Shabbat/the Sabbath are all about. Jesus highlights the differences between these two visions in Luke 14:1-24 (ESV):

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

After sharing this passage of Scripture, you can ask:

  • What does Jesus' dislike about the way that the Pharisees practice Sabbath (Shabbat)?

  • What does Jesus say Sabbath feasts are supposed to be about?

  • Why is it that Jesus-style Sabbath feasts are filled with the outcasts of society? What keeps the wealthy and prosperous from enjoying Jesus-style Sabbath?

  • What would it look like for you to engage in Sabbath (Shabbat) the way Jesus and his disciples did? Who would be invited? Why might it be difficult?

Sabbath the way we see Mary Magdalene practice it in this episode of The Chosen is very countercultural - but also very compelling and beautiful. For youth that find this kind of practice pretty foreign, hopefully it presents them with a vision that shifts their horizons of what is possible and desirable. At the very least, this episode of The Chosen should clarify that Sabbath isn't necessarily a work of self-righteous legalism but can instead be a life-giving spiritual practice.


Have these posts about The Chosen helped you understand The Chosen or explore it with your ministry or family? Would you consider giving a few bucks to support my work as a writer? It's really simple to do using my account on Buy Me a Coffee. Thanks so much!


If you liked this post, I've done several other posts on The Chosen that you might want to check out, including explorations of how the show adapts key biblical characters and guides on how to lead your youth group in discussing each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1 & 2. You may also be interested in some of my other content on adaptation and youth ministry.


Adapting Biblical Characters Series

Exploring the Chosen with Youth [Guides for Youth Leaders]


Season 2

Season 1

Posts on the Nature of Adaptation

Youth Ministry and the Arts





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