Because I couldn’t leave my pals the Pharisees back in 2014. One of my favorite children’s books points out that most of us either identify with the prodigal son or with the older brother. That’s what inspired this particular scene. (For more scenes with the Pharisees, visit this post.)
(Joseph is standing onstage, stretching a yawn, as if preparing to go out for the morning, when Micah rushes on.)
Micah: Joseph! We need to talk.
Joseph: Well, good morning to you too, Micah. The Lord be with you and your family. Are they all well? Was your Sabbath rest refreshing?
Micah: Good morning, thank you, yes, and yes. Satisfied?
Joseph: Barely. I take it that you didn’t come to me for advice on your choice of clothing, which, as usual, you desperately need.
Micah: We’re teachers of the Law, Joseph. What we look like on the outside is of no concern.
Joseph: You Pharisees and your complete lack of vanity. This is why I only serve on the Sanhedrin. God blessed me with prosperity, and I intend to use it. Besides, what sort of God commands tassels on one’s cloak if he didn’t mean us to care about our appearance? I ask you.
Micah: I need your advice, friend. On a serious matter.
Joseph: I can be serious, I suppose. Just this once.
Micah: Did you hear the new rabbi at Simon’s banquet last week?
Joseph: Yes, and I was surprised to see some of the other guests. Hezekiah and Addon haven’t decided to leave their little Sadducee sect to join you, have they?
Micah: No. That was Levi’s doing, inviting them. The latest scheme of his.
Joseph: I might have known. That man could swindle our forefather Jacob out of his last pair of sandals. What’s his game this time, eh?
Micah: He plans to get rid of the teacher. This…Jesus.
Joseph: Ah, yes. The rabbi certainly does know how to tell a story. That one about the banquet and the guests…I was laughing along with all the rest when he told the ridiculous excuses they gave for not going. “My oxen need testing”? Bah! I came up with better excuses as a ten-year-old for incomplete Torah readings.
Micah: Didn’t you realize the rabbi was speaking about us? The people of Israel, rejecting God’s invitation, causing him to look elsewhere.
Joseph: Of course I did! Hadn’t been hitting the wine cup that hard, old fellow. Everyone there might have guessed that one. But it’s just a story, Micah.
Micah: Is it? You don’t think he’s the slightest bit dangerous?
Joseph: Come, let us be honest, Micah: there is corruption among our people. Perhaps it would be best if we took this Jesus’s warning to heart: if we do not repent, our chance to respond to the invitation may be lost.
Micah: Don’t let Levi hear that. You always were too honest for your own good.
Joseph: And on that note, your belt simply does not match your tunic. In case you wanted to know.
Micah: I’m serious, Joseph.
Joseph: So am I. It really does look awful.
Joseph: I know, Micah. I know. I’ll keep my head down. I’m no fool. Well, not a great fool, anyway. But it’s a mystery to me why this storyteller-rabbi upsets you so much. I rather like him. I have never seen Levi’s face turn so many shades of purple during one meal!
Micah: I’m not like Levi, you know.
Joseph: As a matter of fact, I did know. Which is why I’m still your friend.
Micah: But it still makes me…uncomfortable, the company this man keeps. They’re just not a nice sort, if you get my meaning. And those are the ones he said would be allowed into the banquet. “See, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” He actually said that. In front of everyone!
Joseph: Good for him. Someone needs to speak like they know something for a change.
Micah: Maybe I shouldn’t expect you to understand. You’re not a Pharisee.
Joseph: But I am your friend. Try me.
Micah: It’s just that…I’ve worked hard, Joseph. I’ve earned my righteousness through a thousand difficult choices. And the way he talks.… With the Law, we know we’re at the top. We’re the best of the best, Joseph. With this kingdom of his…we might be the noblemen, we might be the servants scurrying around to refill wine glasses. We might even be…
Micah: This teacher will upset the whole system if we let him. We won’t know where we stand anymore.
Joseph: And where do you stand now, brother?
Micah (Quietly): I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
Joseph (Patting him on the back): It’s all right, Micah. You’ll know soon enough. You’re always so very sure of yourself. It’s what I’ve always admired about you—about most of you Pharisees. Now, come along.
Micah: Where are we going?
Joseph: To listen to that teacher of yours. He’s addressing the crowds, as usual. And I’m in the mood for another story, aren’t you? (They exit.)
(Jesus enters, with Matthew, John, Judas, and Peter. Jesus is addressing a crowd. Addon and Hezekiah are standing on the edge, looking on in disapproval, when Joseph and Micah enter.)
Jesus: And in the same way, the angels celebrate with God in heaven every time one sinner repents.
Joseph: Oh dear. Sadducees at half-past-third-watch.
Micah: We can’t let them see us. Hide!
Joseph: Yes, I’ll get right on that. I’m sure if we stand very still, we’ll look the very picture of a barrel of wine or a bushel of wheat.
(Hezekiah and Addon notice them, walk over.)
Micah: Too late! Here they come.
Addon: Good day to you, Micah, Joseph.
Micah: Good day.
Hezekiah: Didn’t expect to see you here. Among all these tax collectors and sinners.
Joseph: Hezekiah, in case you hadn’t noticed…you’re here too.
Hezekiah: Oh. Right.
Jesus: There was a man who had two sons. The younger one went up to his father one day, and said, “Hey! Give me my inheritance money early!”
Addon: Listen to him. What a disgrace! It can’t be considered serious teaching of the Scriptures at all.
Hezekiah (Mocking): Gather around, everyone! Sit on your mats! It’s storytime with Rabbi Jesus!
Jesus: And once he reached the distant country, he spent all the money his father had given him on wine and women and wasteful pleasures.
Addon: Shocking! That he would discuss these things in public!
Joseph: Yes, because I’m sure no one here has ever encountered any mention of sin before this. (Addon glares at him.)
Addon: We’ll put a stop to this storyteller and his scandals soon.
Micah: You’ve been talking to Levi, haven’t you?
Hezekiah: Someone’s got to take out the trash, if you know what I mean. Might as well be us.
Micah: I prefer to think of my vocation as a scribe, not a garbage collector. If it’s all the same to you.
Addon: Yes, well, I’ve had quite enough of this blasphemy, haven’t you, Hezekiah?
Hezekiah: Yeah! Besides, these stories are boring. No special effects, no chase scenes, no explosions… (Begins to exit.) Coming?
Micah: I think we’ll stay a bit, actually.
Joseph: Hate to miss the ending. (Pointedly) Even though we missed most of the middle because of your incessant talking.
Addon (As they exit): You know what the rabbi always says, “If you have ears to hear—nonsense—let them hear.”
Joseph: Pompous old windbag, isn’t he? And the state of his shirtsleeves. (Tsks.)
Jesus: While the son was still a long way off, the Father saw him and took off running. Before his son could speak, he swept him into a hug, and said, “Quick! Come back to the house—it’s time to celebrate! For my beloved son who was dead is alive! He was lost, and now he is found!”
John (Clapping): What a great ending!
Matthew: I think I even saw Peter tearing up a little.
Peter (Guilty): What? No. Just…got some dust in my eye. That’s all.
Matthew: Dust. Right.
Jesus: Um…I wasn’t actually done.
John: Oops. Sorry. Keep going.
Jesus: The father killed the fattened calf and invited all of his friends to the party to welcome home his youngest son. Everyone was there…except the older brother. He stood outside, fuming.
Judas: You can’t blame him. It doesn’t seem fair.
Jesus: When he noticed his older son wasn’t at the feast, the father left and found him. The son said, “Why should I celebrate with him? I’ve worked hard every day of my miserable life for you, and did I ever get even a little barbeque for my friends? No. But this rotten scoundrel of a son slinks back, and you bring out the very best, invite the whole town.”
John: Ouch. What did the father say?
Jesus (Looking at Micah instead of John): The father looked very sad at first. Then he looked at his son and said, “Your brother has come home. Won’t you join in the celebration?” (Pause.)
Micah (Torn): I can’t.
Micah: Come on, Joseph. Let’s go. (Joseph and Micah exit.)
John: How does the story end? Does the older brother come inside?
Jesus: That’s a very good question. (Smiles.)
Peter: Aw, come on! You’re not going to do this to us again, are you?
Jesus (Innocently): Do what?
Peter: Cliffhanger endings. It’s just not fair.
Matthew: Well, if the older son used reason, he would certainly conclude that it would not be financially advantageous to remain away from the celebration, as his father might disinherit him.
John: Also: free food. Am I right? (Peter high fives him.)
Judas: Or he might stay away anyway and continue to mope in his misery. Perhaps try to make his brother’s life miserable as well.
Peter: No, that’s not what happens! I bet the older son stomps off in a rage and burns the barn down to get revenge! And lights all of the cows on fire! You know, Samson-style.
Judas: Peter. You are the strangest disciple of a rabbi this nation has ever seen.
Peter: Thank you. (To Jesus) So, no word on the ending?
Jesus: Do you remember the story of Jonah?
John: Sure. Wait—do you mean the older brother got swallowed by a huge fish?
Jesus: Um…no. But that story doesn’t record an ending either. We never find out if Jonah repented for wishing judgment on Nineveh or if he continued in his hatred. Why do you suppose that is?
Matthew: Because the historian didn’t know what happened?
John: Because they ran out of paper on the scroll?
Peter: Because the real ending would have sounded a bit…fishy? Get it? Jonah? Fish?
Matthew: By all of the Patriarchs, their children, and their livestock, would you please stop the puns, Peter?
Judas: It’s meant to make us think. That’s why we don’t know the ending.
Jesus: That’s right. It gives us a pause to reflect on the choice we might make in their place.
Judas: And do all of have a choice? Is it really that simple?
Jesus: It’s never simple, Judas. But the Scripture show God confronting Jonah, presenting him with the option to turn from bitterness and choose forgiveness. The question is: did he?
Judas: I doubt it. But once you find out, Teacher, you can be sure to tell us. (Exits, along with Matthew and Peter. John lags behind.)
Jesus: Yes, John?
John: I hope the older brother comes inside.
Jesus: Me too, John. Me too.