by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Father Anthony Ouellette has reflected on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount many times in his 15 years as a priest.
But never like he did on Feb. 10.
‘Wonder and awe’
Sitting in a field near Dallas in 30-degree weather and surrounded by some 2,000 people dressed in traditional Middle Eastern garb, Father Ouellette heard Jesus’ sermon in a new way.
“I was sitting there in awe at what it would’ve been like to hear that for the very first time [when] there was no Gospel of Matthew or Luke or Mark or John,” said the pastor of Holy Name Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.
“This would’ve been the very first time those words were spoken,” he continued. “I had to ask myself the question: ‘Do I have that kind of wonder and awe when I read the Gospels?’”
Father Ouellette’s reflection on Jesus’ words from Matthew, Chapters 5-7, was sparked by his purpose that day — playing the part of an extra in the popular internet series “The Chosen.”
Directed by Dallas Jenkins, “The Chosen” has captivated its audience’s imagination by telling the story of Jesus through the eyes of his disciples and others he encountered on earth.
The show is crowdfunded, and its creators gave some investors the chance to be an extra in the Sermon on the Mount scene filmed for Season 2.
Although he didn’t fall into that investor category, Father Ouellette feels he was meant to be there that day.
A couple donated their ticket to the Saint Paul’s Outreach mission for young adults in Kansas City, where Father Ouellette is chaplain.
The mission’s director, Nick Redd, invited those involved in the mission to put their names in for a drawing. Father Ouellette initially accepted the invitation but later decided against it.
“I had a really sneaky suspicion that I would get it,” he said. “And I wanted [someone else] to have this opportunity.”
So, he withdrew his name.
“I literally told God, ‘If you want me to be there, because I think you do, you’re just going to have to do it some other way,’” he said.
Within a day, Redd called him and said the couple realized they had another ticket they needed to give away.
He wanted Father Ouellette to have it, and this time, the priest couldn’t say no.
Beth Leverich was the lucky winner of the first ticket. But for her, it was unexpected.
“I never win anything,” she said. “I felt like Charlie (from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”) — I found the Golden Ticket!”
The opportunity was special because of how much she loves the show.
“I ran across ‘The Chosen’ a couple of years ago when it was first coming out,” she said. “I became a super fan really fast.
“I was telling everybody about it.”
‘Toughing it out’
Creators of “The Chosen” jumped through hoops to pull off the Sermon on the Mount scene amid COVID-19.
The 2,000 extras were tested for COVID multiple times before they were given access to the set.
Leverich was worried at first, because she contracted COVID a week after receiving her ticket.
Fortunately, her quarantine period was up by the time she needed to travel to Dallas, and she was able to pass an antibody test there.
Another complication was the uncharacteristically cold weather in Texas at the time. According to Father Ouellette, the conditions disrupted the shoot a couple of times.
“They had to stop twice,” he said, “because Jesus (played by Jonathan Roumie) got so cold his teeth started to chatter when he was trying to deliver his lines.
“He had to get warmed up a couple of times and then come back out.”
According to Leverich, the cold couldn’t come close to dampening the day.
“Everyone [was] toughing it out and ready to go,” she said. “And there was no loss of joy.
“That’s such a testimony to the Christian spirit. Our joy doesn’t come from our circumstances.”
‘A show for believers’
Looking back, Leverich is grateful she could put herself in the shoes of Jesus’ disciples when he delivered his sermon more than 2,000 years ago.
“Hearing Christ say radical things about being loved, being chosen and being blessed must have moved hearts so intimately and so powerfully,” she said.
A striking reminder of God’s continuous love was when Jenkins prayed over Roumie while he stood, surrounded by the crowd, preparing to finish one final scene.
“It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It just felt like God . . . praying over his son.”
Father Ouellette and Leverich look forward to watching the sermon scene carefully when it airs, and to continue watching the show as a way to grow in faith.
“It’s really rare to have a Christian show really demonstrate who God is,” said Leverich, “and do that in a beautiful way.
“A lot of ‘Jesus’ shows are made for evangelization. ‘The Chosen’ is a show for believers.”
To learn more about “The Chosen,” go online to: studios.vidangel.com/the-chosen or download “The Chosen” app on your smartphone.