(The fourth script in a series leading up to Easter. To start at the beginning, go here.)
Act Two, Scene One
(JOSEPHINE is standing onstage, going through a stack of mail, when MICHELLE rushes on.)
MICHELLE: Josephine! We need to talk.
JOSEPHINE: Well, good morning to you too, Michelle. How are you? Is your family well? Did you have a relaxing Sabbath?
MICHELLE: Good morning, well, yes, and yes. Satisfied?
JOSEPHINE: Barely. I take it that you didn’t come to me for fashion advice, which, as usual, you desperately need.
MICHELLE: I’m a religious scholar, Josephine. What I look like on the outside doesn’t matter.
JOSEPHINE: You Pharisees and your complete lack of vanity. This is why I only serve on the Sanhedrin. God blessed me with a bank account and a sense of style, and I intend to use it.
MICHELLE: I need your advice. It’s serious.
JOSEPHINE: I can be serious, I suppose. Just this once.
MICHELLE: Did you hear the new teacher at Levi’s party last week?
JOSEPHINE: You mean Jesus? Yes, I did. He certainly knows how to tell a story. That one about the banquet and the guests…I was laughing along with everyone else when he told the ridiculous excuses they gave for not going. I came up with better ones for losing my homework in elementary school!
MICHELLE: Didn’t you realize the teacher was talking about us? The people of Israel, rejecting God’s invitation, causing him to look elsewhere.
JOSEPHINE: Of course I did. Everyone there could have guessed that. But it’s just a story, Michelle.
MICHELLE: Is it? You don’t think he’s the slightest bit dangerous?
JOSEPHINE: Let’s be honest, Michelle: we Israelites have some work to do. Morally, I mean. Maybe we really should listen to this new teacher.
MICHELLE: Don’t let Levi hear that. You always were too honest for your own good.
JOSEPHINE: And on that note, your belt simply does not match your skirt. In case you wanted to know.
MICHELLE: I’m serious, Josephine.
JOSEPHINE: So am I. It really does look awful.
JOSEPHINE: I know, Michelle. I know. I’ll keep my head down. I’m no idiot. But I don’t understand why this storyteller-teacher upsets you so much. I like him.
MICHELLE: I’m not like Levi, you know.
JOSEPHINE: As a matter of fact, I did know. Which is why I’m still your friend.
MICHELLE: But it makes me…uncomfortable, the company this man keeps. 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!
JOSEPHINE: Good for him. Someone needs to speak like they know something for a change.
MICHELLE: Maybe I shouldn’t expect you to understand. You’re not a Pharisee.
JOSEPHINE: But I am your friend. Try me.
MICHELLE: It’s just that…I’ve worked hard, Josephine. I’ve earned my righteousness through a thousand difficult choices. With the Law, we know we’re at the top. This teacher will upset the whole system if we let him. We won’t know where we stand anymore.
JOSEPHINE: And where do you stand now?
MICHELLE (Quietly): I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.
JOSEPHINE (Patting her on the back): It’s all right, Michelle. You’ll know soon. You’re always so sure of yourself. It’s what I’ve always admired about you—about all of you Pharisees. Now, come on.
MICHELLE: Where are we going?
JOSEPHINE: To listen to that teacher of yours. He’s talking to the crowds, as usual. I’ve got some time before my manicure appointment. And I’m in the mood for another story, aren’t you? (They exit.)
(JESUS enters, with MADDIE, JONATHAN, JUDE, and PETE. JESUS is addressing a crowd. ANNA and JEREMIAH are on the edge, looking on in disapproval, when JOSEPHINE and MICHELLE enter.)
JESUS: And in the same way, the angels celebrate with God every time one sinner repents.
JOSEPHINE: Oh dear. Sadducees coming.
MICHELLE: We can’t let them see us. Hide!
JOSEPHINE: Yeah, I’ll get right on that. I’m sure if we stand really still, we’ll just blend right in with the wall. (JEREMIAH and ANNA notice them, walk over.)
MICHELLE: Too late! Here they come.
ANNA: Good day to you, Michelle, Josephine.
MICHELLE: Hello, Anna.
JEREMIAH: Didn’t expect to see you here. Among all these tax collectors and sinners.
JOSEPHINE: Jeremiah, in case you hadn’t noticed…you’re here too.
JEREMIAH: 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!”
ANNA: Listen to him. What a disgrace! It can’t be considered serious teaching of the Scriptures.
JEREMIAH (Mocking): Gather around, everyone! Sit on your mats! It’s storytime with Teacher 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.
ANNA: Shocking! Talking about those things in public!
JOSEPHINE: Yes, because I’m sure no one here has ever encountered any mention of sin before this. (ANNA glares at her.)
ANNA: It doesn’t matter. We’ll put a stop to this storyteller soon.
MICHELLE: You’ve been talking to Levi, haven’t you?
JEREMIAH: Someone’s got to take out the trash. Might as well be us.
ANNA: I’ve had enough of this blasphemy, haven’t you, Jeremiah?
JEREMIAH: Yeah! Besides, these stories are boring. No special effects, no chase scenes, no explosions… (Begins to exit.) Coming?
MICHELLE: I think we’ll stay a while, actually.
JOSEPHINE: Hate to miss the ending. (Pointedly) Even though we missed the entire middle because of your constant talking.
ANNA (As they exit): You know what the teacher always says: “If you have ears to hear—nonsense—let them hear.”
JOSEPHINE: Doesn’t she just think she knows everything? And those shoes. (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!”
JONATHAN (Clapping): What a great ending!
MADDIE: I think I even saw Pete tearing up a little.
PETE (Guilty): What? No. Just…got some dust in my eye. That’s all.
MADDIE: Dust. Right.
JESUS: Um…I wasn’t actually done.
JONATHAN: Oops. Sorry. Keep going.
JESUS: The father 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.
JUDE: 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 slinks back, and you bring out the very best, invite the whole town.”
JONATHAN: Ouch. What did the father say?
JESUS (Looking at MICHELLE instead of JONATHAN): The father looked very sad at first. Then he looked at his child and said, “Your brother has come home. Won’t you join in the celebration?”
MICHELLE (Torn): I can’t.
MICHELLE: Come on, Josephine. Let’s go. (JOSEPHINE and MICHELLE exit.)
JONATHAN: How does the story end? Does the older brother come inside?
JESUS: That’s a very good question. (Smiles.)
PETE: Aw, come on! You’re not going to do this to us again, are you?
JESUS (Innocently): Do what?
PETE: Cliffhanger endings. It’s not fair.
MADDIE: Well, if the older son thinks about it, he’d certainly conclude that it wouldn’t be financially advantageous to remain away from the celebration, as his father could disinherit him.
JONATHAN: Also: free food. Am I right? (PETE high fives him.)
JUDE: Or he might stay away anyway and continue to mope in his misery.
PETE: No, that’s not what happens! I bet the older son stomps off in a rage and burns his dad’s barn down to get revenge! And lights all of the cows on fire! You know, Samson-style.
JUDE: Pete. You are the strangest disciple I have ever met.
PETE: Thank you. (To JESUS) So, no word on the ending?
JUDE: He’s trying to make us think. That’s what’s going on here. I know his tricks.
JESUS: You have to admit: without the ending, you can reflect on the choice you’d make in his place.
JUDE: And do all of us have a choice? Is it really that simple?
JESUS: It’s never simple, Jude.
JUDE: Well, once you find out what he did, Teacher, you can be sure to tell us. (Exits, along with MADDIE and PETE. JONATHAN lags behind.)
JONATHAN: I hope the older brother comes inside.
JESUS: Me too, Jonathan. Me too.