(The fifth script in a series leading up to Easter. To start at the beginning, go here.)
Act Two, Scene Two
(At rise, Pharisees and Sadducees are clumped together at right, in the midst of an intense conversation.)
LEVI: All right, here’s one thing we can all agree on: this Jesus character needs to go. He’s nothing but trouble.
ANNA: Absolutely. The man’s a raving lunatic!
JEREMIAH: A firebrand heretic!
SIMONE: And about to be voted Mr. Galilee by the entire Jewish nation. (All glare at him.) Just pointing out that you’re taking a shot at the most popular figure in the country. That’s all.
MICHELLE: She’s right, you know. The people would hate us if we spoke out against Jesus.
LEVI: We’ll just have to trap him! Get him to say something that will make his so-called followers turn against him. (Suddenly grins.) And I have just the thing.
(All huddle in to whisper. JESUS enters left, followed by disciples and various crowd members.)
LEVI: Here he comes! Places, everyone! (All of them split up and approach JESUS with extremely fake smiles.) Well, if it isn’t Jesus. Imagine running into you here!
JESUS (Not buying it): Yes…imagine that.
LEVI: Teacher, we know you’re honest.
JEREMIAH: So honest!
MICHELLE: And that you don’t care what anyone else thinks of you.
JEREMIAH: Not a bit.
ANNA: And that you aren’t swayed by appearances, but teach correct doctrine.
JEREMIAH: Straight from the Scriptures, yes sir.
LEVI: (Through gritted teeth) Okay, that’s enough, Jeremiah! (To JESUS) So, knowing all that about you, we have a question.
JESUS (Dryly): I can’t wait.
SIMONE: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar—the bloodthirsty pagan dictator—or should we break the law and risk starting a riot by not paying taxes?
(JESUS thinks for a minute as the Pharisees and Sadducees watch gleefully.)
JESUS: Anyone have a coin on them?
ANNA: I do! (Hesitates.)
JESUS (Sighing): I’ll give it back.
ANNA (Sheepish): Ah, right. Of course. (Hands it over.)
JESUS: Tell me, whose mark is stamped on this coin?
(Pharisees and Sadducees confer, then come back.)
(Disciples clap and cheer sarcastically, Pharisees and Sadducees glare at them.)
JESUS: That’s right. (Motions little girl from the crowd forward.) Now, whose mark is stamped on this child?
(Pharisees and Sadducees confer.)
SIMONE: It’s got to be a trick question. And I know trick questions.
MICHELLE: I think I know the answer. (Turns.) God’s. She was made in the image of God, just as Adam and Eve were at the beginning of time.
JESUS: Then give to Caesar what’s marked as his, and to God what is marked as His.
(Pharisees and Sadducees stare, then back away to the right for a conference.)
SIMONE: How did he do that? Completely dodged the question. The man ought to be a politician.
ANNA: They’re calling him ‘King of the Jews’—he is a politician! And threatening to upset our good standing with Rome!
MICHELLE: Remind me again: how is being conquered by a pagan government ‘good standing’?
JEREMIAH (Ignoring her): I’ve got it! This one will trap him. I’m sure of it. (To SIMONE.) Come on, I need your help.
(She and JEREMIAH and ANNA go over to JESUS.)
JEREMIAH (Pointing to SIMONE): This is a hypothetical woman. (Frowns.) Well, I mean, she’s a real woman. But the situation we’re going to discuss is entirely hypothetical. I mean, I suppose it could happen, but—
ANNA: Jeremiah. Get to the point.
JEREMIAH: Sorry. Anyway, this woman married a man who died before they had a son. According to the law, she would have to marry the man’s brother. So she did, but he died too, also before they had a son. And so on, until all seven brothers were dead.
SIMONE: And you’re sure I’m not on trial as a murder suspect at this point?
ANNA: Shh! You’re just an object lesson.
JEREMIAH: Then, finally, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, once all seven brothers are raised from the dead…
SIMONE: Come on, we all know you guys don’t believe in the resurrection.
ANNA: Shh! (To JESUS) Well teacher, tell us: at the resurrection, whose wife would she be?
JEREMIAH: One Bride for Seven Brothers. Sounds like a musical.
JESUS: That was the best case you could make against the resurrection? You’re actually completely wrong—you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Sadducees sputter.) When the dead are raised, they aren’t married or given in marriage. As for the resurrection itself, haven’t you read the words God spoke to Moses from the bush, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”? Why would God bother to mention them if they just died and were gone? He’s the God of the living, not the dead.
MICHELLE (Clapping): Good answer, teacher! (Others stare.) What?
ANNA: Oh, be quiet. You Pharisees are so literal about everything.
JEREMIAH: “Have you not read?” he says. “No, Jesus, we completely missed the story of one of the founders of our faith and his conversation with a giant flaming bush. Was that really in the Scriptures? Wow! Thanks for sharing.”
(He and ANNA stomp offstage, while MICHELLE approaches JESUS.)
SIMONE: Good, Michelle’s finally speaking up. She’ll come up with a good one.
MICHELLE: Teacher, which commandment is most important?
JESUS: The most important is the creed you recite every day. Have you stopped to listen to it lately—really listen? “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” And the second is like it—love your neighbor as you love yourself. There are no commandments greater than these.
MICHELLE: Well said, teacher.
SIMONE: Wait, was that sarcastic? That had to be sarcastic.
MICHELLE: You’re right—there is one God, and loving him and loving your neighbor is more important than any service or offering or sacrifice. (Pause.)
JESUS: You aren’t far from the kingdom of God.
(MICHELLE starts to say something in reply, then nods respectfully, and walks over to the other Pharisees. JESUS and disciples, and crowd members exit.)
SIMONE: Well? How could you stand there and take that? Why didn’t you argue?
MICHELLE: There was nothing to say.
LEVI (Still angry): “Not far.” What did he mean by that?
MICHELLE: Haven’t—haven’t you ever felt that way, Levi? Like you were nearly there…almost good enough…so close….
LEVI: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Michelle. If anyone deserves the kingdom of God, surely it’s us, for goodness’ sake.
MICHELLE: Yes. Hmm. For goodness’ sake.
SIMONE: No one, and I mean no one could be holier than we are.
MICHELLE (Watching where JESUS walked off): He could.
LEVI: (Narrowing his eyes) Who? Who are you talking about, Michelle?
MICHELLE (A bit guiltily): Hmm? Oh. God, of course.
LEVI: Oh. Him. Well, you don’t suppose He holds us to that standard, now do you? We’re doing our best. And in our case, our best is quite good enough. (He and SIMONE exit.)