This was a short play that Ron wrote for “something” at Lake Forest College and Common Ground. I found this tucked in an email that he had sent me in May of 2008. If anyone has any further knowledge about how this was used, please share in the comments section below.
Jesus: a Life
Staging: The actors sit in a semi-circle of chairs and come forward when they speak. The actor playing Yeshu wears a white shirt with slacks. The other male actors wear solid color shirts with slacks. The female actor wears a simple dress.
Act I: At Qumran: The play is set in the years 27-30 of the Common Era. Since all the actors, except the Roman officer, are Jewish, Hebrew names are used: Yeshu for Jesus, Yochanan for John, Yacob for James, Cephas for Peter, and Miriam for Mary Magdalene.
This act is set in Qumran, the center of the Essence movement near the Dead Sea. This is an extreme separatist Jewish movement and there is evidence that Jesus, John the Baptist, and James may all have been part of this community at one time.
Actors: Yeshu, Yochanan, and Yacob
Yeshu steps forward. After a minute, Yacob walks forward.
Yeshu: Erev Tov, Yacob.
Yacob: Good evening to you as well, Yeshu, my brother. You seem pensive tonight.
Yeshu: Thoughts weigh heavy on me this evening. It helps to be outside. The heat of the desert sun is lifting and the coolness of the air makes even the sea we call “dead” seem somehow beautiful. Our Essene life shares the quality of this desert: the stark contrast of God and Satan, virtue and sin, trust and despair.
Yochanan steps forward.
Yeshu: I have loved these years at Qumran. But I’m feeling called to move on…I’m just not sure yet where I should be going.
Yochanan: I seem to have come on cue.
Yeshu: Greetings, Yochanan. Why do you say that?
Yochanan: I overheard your last words and I too am leaving Qumran. Our life here is peaceful enough, with prayer and study, silence and hard work. We wait here for Israel’s deliverance, God’s strong arm to bring us a messiah’s victory, the overthrow of Roman power, and the restoration at last of David’s kingdom. But I need to do more than wait. I need to be the voice in the desert bringing this message to others, calling them to turn to God and prepare themselves for a day of judgment. It is coming soon…even now the ax is being laid to the tree.
Yacob: But, Yochanan, we cannot force God’s hand. God acts in God’s own time. Our place is here, a pure community ready to greet God’s messiah when he comes.
Yochanan: I’m sorry, Yacob, but God’s call is clear to me. I leave at dawn. I’ll not be far from here, just north a bit along the Jordan’s banks. I’ll call our people to teshuvah, repentance, turning to God and God alone. I’ll wash them in the Jordan’s waters so that they can be new born, ready for the powerful day of God’s judgment.
Yeshu: I will join you there, Yochanan. Perhaps in your company my restlessness will end and I’ll know God’s will for me as well. But first I’ll go to Nazareth to visit my mother and my brothers and sisters after these many years.
Yacob: Yochanan, I wish you God speed in your mission. When our father, Yosef, died, Yeshu and I left our home and came to this holy place, trusting our younger siblings to maintain the home and the business, while caring for our mother as well. My decision is to remain here. I will miss you, Yochanan. And Yeshu, my brother, your leaving takes part of my heart as well. Greet our mother and our brothers and sisters for me. Though our paths part, all three of us remain together in God’s hands.
The three return to their seats.
Act II: At the Jordan: Jesus has just been immersed in the waters of the Jordan by John and is now standing apart, deep in meditation.
Actors: Yeshu and Yochanan.
Yeshu walks forward and stands there a moment in silence. Then Yochanan walks forward.
Yochanan: Ma shlomcha, my friend. How are you now? It’s hours since I pushed you down into the river’s depths. You emerged rapt in a kind of wonder and still you stand as though in another world than ours. Are you now turned to stone?
Yeshu: Not stone, my friend, but living fire. My mind still reels with all that happened and words can never give shape to what I experienced when I rose from the waters. I felt wrapped in God’s love and heard God’s voice calling me his beloved son and telling me that he was pleased with me. I felt God’s Spirit, the Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation, resting on me, nestling against me like a dove. And I knew in that moment that God’s reign was not a fire of judgment but the presence of a deep peace. Suddenly everything shone with God’s light and love. If only everyone could see that love and share it with others. Then we would know the compassion and peace God longs for us to experience in our own lives and in our communities as well. And this heaven can be ours now as well as in the world to come.
Yochanan: Although I can’t fully grasp all that you have said, I know deep in my heart that this message is indeed from God and that you must carry it to others. You are no longer my disciple. My time is drawing to an end. The soldiers of Herod Antipas, a king almost as evil as his father, are searching for me now and I cannot long elude them. Go north to Galilee’s sea and speak the good news you have been given. My sun must set as yours must rise. But we will one day meet again in God.
Yeshu: Shalom, farewell, dear mentor and dearer friend. God go with you.
Yochanan and Yeshu return to their seats.
Act III: In the Galilee: This act takes place on one of the dusty roads in the Galilee where Jesus is conducting his ministry of teaching and healing.
Actors: Yeshu, Cephas, Miriam, Quintus
Yeshu, Cephas, and Miriam step forward.
Yeshu: Look at the wildflowers carpeting that hillside. Even Solomon dressed in kingly robes could not compete with even one of those flowers. The whole world is aglow with God’s glory. It shines out in those disfigured with disease or wasted by vice, in the prostitutes and thieves, in the beggars wrapped in rags. If only they could see their beauty and how God loves them more than they could ever love themselves.
Cephas: How can a simple fisherman like me grasp even part of what you speak? I want to be with you and yet so often I find myself confused and even a bit fearful. And I’ve never been the kind of man to be afraid of anything. When I’m with you I feel the way I do when we go up to Jerusalem and stand in the courtyard of the Temple. I sense holiness in the Temple and in you; and holiness somehow attracts me and scares me at the same time.
Yeshu: All that is in me grows in you as well, Cephas. As you let go of the ego’s hold on you, this deeper self will be born. Be open, gentle, a lover of peace, compassionate, caring, with a heart that’s always pure. You are like the soil where farmers sow. The seed is pure, so is the sun and rain. But the future harvest lies in the readiness of the soil. When weeds and rocks are gone, the seed will sprout and grain will grow. Prepare the soil of your soul, Cephas, and you will be the world’s light, the earth’s salt, and a city built on a hill for all to see.
Miriam: Long ago your words released me from the hold of seven demons and they continue to open me to abundant life, more than I ever dreamed was possible.
Yeshu: You are the one who understands me best. You are my beloved disciple, Miriam.
Cephas: Why are you closer to this woman than to myself and all the men who hear your words and follow you?
Yeshu: Beware of that ego I warned you about, Cephas. It keeps you from a fuller life. Let me tell you a story. If a blind man and a sighted man are in a dark room, neither of them can see. But if someone opens the window and lets in the light, then the sighted man will see, though the blind man remains in the darkness.
Cephas: Are we then blind?
Yeshu: There is a kind of seeing only Miriam has. But you too will grow in your ability to understand my words. Be patient and open. Do all you can to be the soil that is ready for the seed the farmer sows.
Miriam: A Roman officer is approaching. I will withdraw.
Miriam returns to her seat and Quintus steps forward.
Quintus: Are you Yeshu ben Yosef, the local holyman?
Yeshu: I am indeed Yeshu ben Yosef. But only God is holy. I am just a passerby. Birds have nests and foxes dens, but I have nowhere to lay my head. I worked for many years with wood and stone, laboring alongside my father on the monuments of which you Romans are so proud. When my father died, I joined the Essene brothers at Qumran. Some years later I left them to join Yochanan by the Jordan. After he was arrested and executed by Herod Antipas, I came here to the northern shores of this lovely lake and it is here that I announce the good news that God is very close to us. God has called me to be a reminder to all who will listen that God’s reign longs to embrace us, that a loving Father calls us to see the world with his eyes and to act in the world with his heart.
Quintus: Your words touch me deeply. But my soul is burdened with a grave concern. I come to you in dire need. My servant, Carus, lies at home in bed, on fire with a great fever. The doctors in my company are helpless against this illness.
Yeshu: You seem greatly moved by the illness of this servant.
Quintus: I will be honest with you. Carus is more than a servant. He is my lover. He accompanied me here from Rome to this remote part of our empire. I hesitate to say that because I know that your people oppose love between people of the same sex.
Yeshu: God opposes no love that is caring and committed. Your love seems to be both. There is nothing in it I can find to condemn.
Quintus: Can you then help Carus? Can you heal him?
Yeshu: God is the source of all healing. But I can come with you and encourage you to trust in God’s love, no matter how this matter ends.
Quintus: I am a Roman officer. If I speak a word of command, things happen. I trust you to be an officer of your God, just as I am an officer of Caesar. If you but give a word of command, I believe that Carus will be healed.
Yeshu: Your trust in God amazes me. Know then that God has acted in accordance with your faith. Even now the fever has subsided and Carus rests peacefully. Go home and continue to live a life of honest love and service to others.
Quintus: Thank you, Master.
Quintus returns to his seat.
Cephas: My mind is stretched beyond all understanding. So that man’s lover is really healed? And yet, they are both pagans. They worship the idols of Rome. Why did you not try to change his religion?
Yeshu: Religion is not of great importance. Cephas. It is at best a vehicle. Religion tends to forget that and then falls easily into a form of self-idolatry. It isn’t only the Romans who have idols, my friend. Be loose about religion but be tight about God. God is of supreme importance and God can find his children in many ways. God has certainly found Quintus and Carus. They need have no fear.
Cephas: You’ve given me a lot to think about, Master. I really do trust your words and yet I need your help for that part of me that finds it so hard to trust.
Yeshu: You’re a good man, Cephas. That’s why I gave you the nickname, Cephas, meaning Rock. No matter how much you falter, in the long run you will merit the name I have given you. You will indeed one day prove to be a rock, a strong support for many others.
The actors return to their seats.
Act IV: On the Way to Jerusalem: This act takes place when Jesus and some of his disciples are making the journey to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover in the spring of the year 30 CE.
Actors: Yeshu, Cephas, and Miriam.
Yeshu steps forward, flanked by Cephas and Miriam.
Cephas: It’s good to rest a moment, Master. We must be half way to Jerusalem by now. Our little group of pilgrims is giddy with the excitement of celebrating this Passover in the Holy City.
Miriam: My relatives there have a place for us to stay, an upper room that will serve the needs of our company.
Yeshu: Don’t speak to the rest about this now but I want the two of you to know that this feast may well provide Rome with an opportunity to arrest me.
Cephas: That can’t be. We won’t let it happen.
Yeshu: This is something far outside your control, Cephas. Rome has been listening to my message for three years now. They hear me urge people to be loyal to God’s reign and they’re smart enough to know that this displaces any ultimate allegiance to Caesar’s reign. After all, in the long run, one can’t serve two masters.
Miriam: If I have understood your teaching, the principles of God’s reign stand in stark contrast to the principles of Caesar’s reign. In God’s reign, God is supreme and peace comes from justice. Relationships are our greatest treasure and our purpose is to serve. But in Caesar’s reign the emperor is a god and his so-called peace comes from conquest and beating enemies into submission. Possessions are of supreme importance for those who pledge allegiance to this greedy empire and one’s attitude towards others is to dominate and rule. Caesar’s heel rests heavy on us all.
Yeshu: As always, Miriam, you understand me well. And conflict follows from this picture as surely as harvest follows rain. I want our rag-clad group of peasant pilgrims to enter the city by one gate at the precise time when by another gate Pontius Pilate’s Roman retinue is marching in with banners waving, drums beating, and trumpets blaring. Let the inhabitants of Jerusalem see the stark contrast between God’s and Caesar’s reign. And I plan to confront the Temple priests as well for they’re in bed with the Romans, partly for good reasons: to preserve the Temple and our religious freedom, but partly for their own profit. Caiphas himself is high priest only with Rome’s approval and Rome writes the script that the priests are forced to follow.
Cephas: But why strike the hornets’ nest with a stick? Do you want to be arrested?
Yeshu: Of course not, Cephas. But I have to teach here what I have taught in the Galilee. And I teach by actions as well as by words. I must invite people everywhere to embrace God’s reign, even if that means flying in the face of Caesar’s empire. It is only by loving God and our neighbor that we can build the world of which our Father dreams.
Miriam: And God’s dream is Caesar’s nightmare. Caiphas and Pilate will surely see you as the empire’s enemy. But as much as I dread seeing you endangered, I will not be an obstacle to the mission that defines your life.
Yeshu: Thank you, beloved disciple. My work is complete if even one can understand. And now it is time to go up to Jerusalem.
The actors return to their seats.
Act V: In the Upper Room: Peter and Mary Magdalene are in the Upper Room on Sunday. Jesus had been crucified on the previous Friday.
Actors: Cephas, Miriam, and Yakob
Cephas and Miriam walk forward.
Miriam: I was out walking near the place where he was killed. Distraught with grief, I hardly knew what I was doing. I sat on the ground, weeping and praying for light and strength. Suddenly my soul was suffused with a great peace. I intuitively knew that all was well. Within my heart I heard him speak my name. He made it clear that our relationship could now not be the same. He was with God and death no longer had a hold on him. I was to return to our company in the upper room to strengthen you with the truth I deeply know: he is truly risen.
Cephas: This same message filled my morning’s meditation. What you have said confirms what my own soul has learned. He called me to feed his flock, the sheep and lambs alike. He said that I must someday go to Rome where I, like the Master, will be arrested and killed by the same imperial system that executed him. But he promised that he would always be with me.
Yacob walks forward.
Yacob: Greetings, friends, are you companions of Yeshu ben Yosef who was executed recently?
Cephas: Yes we are. And who are you?
Yacob: I am Yacob ben Yosef, Yeshu’s brother. I have been a monk at Qumran these many years. Two days ago, I was praying in my cell, when suddenly I was transported to a different space and time. I seemed to be in the middle of Jerusalem, standing in the very court of the Temple. Everything around me moved ever so slowly, while every person and Temple stone was beautiful beyond all words and filled with God’s own light. And in that light he spoke to me, my brother Yeshu, asking me to be the support of the community that would form here in Jerusalem. He said that I must hold this post for many years till the authorities take my life as they took his. But I was not to fear, for death has lost its sting. He assured me that death is the opposite of birth, not of life. And he said that life is changed by death but never taken away. Then he directed me to come to this Upper Room to meet his companions.
Miriam: You are welcome, brother Yacob. I am Miriam and this is Cephas. We have received revelations much like yours. We too have come to realize that his death has become life and that his end was only a beginning. It is through our voices now that his message will be heard.
Cephas: Every human being is God’s holy image.
Yacob: Every human being can wake up to see the world through God’s eyes.
Miriam: Every human being can learn to love the world with God’s heart.
Cephas: Will he return?
Miriam: Of course. Whenever we see the world as he did, whenever we love our neighbor as he did, then he has indeed returned.
Yacob: And how will it all end?
Miriam: God wins in the end. Some will be called to grow through the Master’s words but God has other ways of reaching people too. And when all of humankind has grown up, then God will roll up the universe like a Torah scroll and return it to the ark of eternity. And God will then be all in all and we will live in God’s love forever.