Sometimes, you’re just trying to read the Bible, and a bunch of fictional Pharisees demand you turn it into a script. This is the second one I’ve written, though it comes chronologically before the first one. Sorry about that. I didn’t realize this would be a series at the time. Because that would take, you know, organization and such.
Peter, John, and Matthew: Disciples
Levi, Simon, Micah, and Nicodemus: Pharisees
Man with Withered Hand
(Jesus and his disciples walk across the stage. Peter and a few others are picking bits of grain and eating them.)
Peter: So Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” And I say, “What, Lot’s wife wasn’t enough?” Get it? (He is the only one laughing.)
John: I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Are we almost to the synagogue, Jesus?
Peter: Good, because I’m starving. Nothing around here to eat but this grain. Not that I’m blaming anyone…John.
John: What, so I forgot lunch this one time. It won’t happen again.
Matthew: Don’t look now, but I believe someone’s following us.
Peter: Leave it to the tax collector to be checking over his shoulder.
Matthew (Sighing delicately): Aren’t those jokes ever going to get old?
Peter: Probably not, no.
Jesus: They don’t happen to be those Pharisees we saw in Capernaum yesterday, do they?
John (Glancing back): Yep. Good guess. You’d think you were omniscient or something.
Jesus: I don’t think I’d need omniscience for that one, John. (He keeps walking.)
John: So…shouldn’t we talk to them? See what they’re up to?
Peter: Yeah, maybe they have some real food. (Burps, then turns.) Hey! We know you’re there! Come on out, already!
(Levi, Micah, and Simon stride forward, Nicodemus follows a bit sheepishly.)
Levi: Look here, Jesus! Why are your disciples working on the Sabbath?
Peter: Wait a minute…we’re walking beside a grain field. You’re walking beside a grain field. If we’re working, aren’t you working too?
Matthew: Perhaps telling bad jokes classifies as work under the Torah.
Peter: Real funny, tax man.
Simon: No, no, no. You plucked that wheat and shook off the grain. Harvesting. Threshing. It’s all perfectly clear. You might as well be dragging a team of donkeys with a plow.
Peter: Yeah, I think there are some donkeys around here somewhere… (Other disciples snicker, Levi sighs heavily and ignores them.)
Levi: Well? What have you to say about this, teacher?
Jesus: Have you not read what David did when he was in danger and hungry? He and his men went into the temple in the days of Abiathar the high priest and ate the bread of the Presence that only the priests are allowed to eat.
Simon: Oooookay. So…what does that have to do with this?
Jesus: David broke the ceremonial law…and God let him. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. And the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.
Levi (Narrowing his eyes): The Son of Man.
Simon: A reference to the book of Daniel. It’s a title for…
Levi (Still staring at Jesus): I know what it is, Simon. What I wondering is if he knows exactly what he’s doing by using it.
(Jesus and Levi stare at each other. Levi looks away first, and Jesus begins to exit left with his disciples.)
Matthew: Well, that was a bit uncomfortable.
John: You’ll get used to it. Happens a lot. Those guys just seem to pop up wherever we are. Like they’re following us or something…
(Jesus and disciples are off.)
Simon: Oh, come on. The David clause? He was a man after God’s own heart—the guy could do whatever he wanted and get away with it.
Levi: That is not orthodox, Simon.
Micah: Yes, and David was running for his life. With a starving army of rebels and troublemakers in tow. Whereas Jesus’ disciples were just grabbing a snack on the way to the synagogue. The logic doesn’t seem to line up. It’s a completely new interpretation of that Scripture…
Nicodemus: And that’s…bad?
Levi: Of course it is! And it seems to be a trademark of his: inventing new doctrines and teaching them as if they were the words of God himself. The idea!
Micah: Well, those disciples had something in common with David’s men, anyway: they’re a loud, ragtag bunch of the dregs of society. And I imagine they both smelled about the same, too.
Simon: Maybe someone forgot to tell him that rabbis gather students, not fishermen, country hicks, and the local tax cheat.
Nicodemus: Of all the Scriptures to appeal to. You’d think he’d just apologize and scold his disciples for not preparing their food before the Sabbath. Just to keep the peace.
Simon: I expected him to know a couple of popular psalms, some zingers from the Torah, maybe…and then he goes and pulls out obscure references from the histories. Who does that?
Micah: Reminds me of that young man studying under Gamaliel.
Simon: Oh, right, I met him. Kid can’t decide whether he wants to make dramatic firebrand speeches or give you a long, memorized lecture on the begats of the Torah.
Micah: What was his name?…oh, right. Saul. Saul of Tarsus. Between you and me, I doubt he’ll amount to much.
Levi: Come on, we’ve let enough time pass. (Shields eyes, looking after Jesus.) We can follow them without seeming obvious.
Micah: Shouldn’t we have something better to do? Scrolls to copy, Scriptures to explain, that sort of thing?
Simon: It’s the Sabbath. We can’t work. Might as well stalk the local heretic sensation, right? Besides, I want to see what he does next.
Levi (Disdainfully): You and the entire uneducated populace of Judea.
(All exit. Jesus and Disciples enter right. Jesus is teaching a group of people. A man with a shriveled hand is among them, off to the side and dressed like a beggar.)
Jesus: …as it was spoken in the days of Saul, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” But what does this look like? What does it mean? I tell you, something greater than the temple—something greater than the Law—is here.
(Levi, Micah, Simon, and Nicodemus sneak in, listening carefully. They are clearly trying to be inconspicuous…but in a really obvious way.)
Jesus (Pointing to the beggar): You, over there! Come up and stand in front of everyone.
Simon: No way. He’s not going to do it…is he?
Micah (In disbelief): We are standing right here! He’s baiting us, isn’t he? Looking for a reaction.
Levi: Come on. We have to get closer. (They sneak-shuffle forward.)
Nicodemus: Couldn’t we just…maybe…wait here? (They all ignore him.) Oh dear.
Jesus: You, Pharisees. (They freeze mid-shuffle when Jesus turns to them.) If you had a sheep and it fell into a pit on a Sabbath, wouldn’t you rescue it?
Simon: Well, I don’t know. I don’t have any sheep.
Matthew: I believe that’s why he began the question with the word “if.”
Simon: Well…I…maybe…but you see…
Jesus: How much more valuable is this man than a sheep?
Simon: Er…a lot.
Jesus: Which would the law want me to do on the Sabbath: good or harm? Would it be right to save a life or to kill?
Simon: One moment, please. (Turns back to other Pharisees) Um…there is literally no good way to answer that question. He might as well have asked me, “Did you stop beating your wife?”
Levi: The correct answer to his question is neither. But we can’t say that, not with all these people watching!
Simon: Let’s just stand here and look righteous. (Turns back, arms folded, saying nothing)
Jesus (After a pause, to the man): Stretch out your hand.
(Crowd gasps, Man’s hand opens. They all cheer and celebrate with the man.)
Jesus: Your faith has healed you.
Levi (Stepping forward): And what of our faith, Jesus? The faith—the Law, the righteousness of God—that we defend?
Jesus: One of your suffering brothers has been healed. Won’t you join in the celebration? (All glare, except Nicodemus, who looks down.)
Nicodemus: S…sorry. No. We can’t actually do that. It’s the, ah, Sabbath after all.
(Jesus gives him a disappointed look. Then he, Disciples, Crowd, and the healed man exit.)
Levi: You’re sorry?
Nicodemus: It was the polite thing to say! It’s not as if I know the fellow. As if I’ve ever…talked to him. Or anything like that.
Micah: Well, he knows how to play a crowd, that’s for sure.
Levi: A flagrant breach of the Sabbath laws, right in front of us! It’s as if he wants to flaunt his disobedience!
Nicodemus: Yes, but, you see… If it were your son or brother, would you have wanted Jesus to heal him? Maybe? (Ducks at Levi’s glare.) I’m…I’m just saying.
Levi: And I’m just answering: no, I would not. There are seven days to a week, and it’s not as if the man were dying. His hand was shriveled. That could have waited another day, surely.
Micah: Well, your confrontation could have waited another day too, Levi.
Levi: Excuse me? Justice was on my side! God’s justice!
Micah: Yes, but it’s bad for public relations. You don’t go in and condemn a healer for a technicality.
Levi: It is the Sabbath, Micah. This is not a fine-print footnote on the dietary laws we’re talking about here, some slight tweak to an obscure religious festival. It is God’s holy day of rest, the time that sets us apart from the money-grabbing pagans around us, the sign that we are his chosen people!
Micah: I know what the Sabbath is, Levi, and what it means. All I’m saying is that it isn’t wise to rain on a very public, very joyous parade, if you know what I mean.
Levi: Hmm. You may have a point. (Pauses, then more sinisterly.) But I know a few tricks to turn a parade into something else entirely. We will, of course, need some assistance.
Nicodemus: Em…if you don’t mind me asking…what does that mean, exactly?
Levi: We’re going to have a little talk with…the Sadducees. (Everyone reacts in surprise, Micah is somewhat outraged.)
Micah: No! They’re nothing but a bunch of Gentile loving liberals! Pawns of Herod and all the rest!
Levi: We Pharisees have our disagreements with them, of course. But they are on our side.
Micah: Since when?
Levi: Since we started drawing a line separating us from him. The man is dangerous, Micah. Besides, you know only the Romans can order an execution. It might be nice to have the “Herodian pawns” working with us.
Nicodemus: Excuse me…did you say… (Gulps) ex…execution?
Levi: Excuse me, Nicodemus, but did Jesus say…b…b…blasphemy?
Nicodemus: Well, it may be too soon to know for sure. I agree that he’s certainly not terribly traditional, but…
Levi: No! We cannot allow it! If we let one heretic like this wander around, we lose everything. All that we’ve worked for these long centuries. You know what they say. Better for one man to die for the entire nation.
Nicodemus: Is it…better? Because that doesn’t sound particularly better to me. Maybe we can just not have any…dying?
Levi: We study the law, Nicodemus. We understand the details of the sacrificial system. Of all people, we should know: someone has to die. (They all exit.)