27 January 1997

Carpenter: Act 1 - Baptism

Scene 1

Lights on upstage, dimly. Jesus is working alone at carpenter's bench. This is the only action for 15 seconds or so, and continues until Scene 3.

Scene 2: Centurion Report

Lights on stage left. A weary Centurion climbs up on stage and salutes toward the back of the room. Pilate's voice comes from offstage.

Centurion: The insurrection has been suppressed, Your Excellency, and we have Barabbas in custody.

Pilate: And the Judeans?

Centurion: They have returned to their homes. We expect no further trouble out of them.

Pilate: Fine. I don't need to tell you how important it is that we allow no further unrest. Our reputation in Rome is strained already. Another incident like this one and we may both be facing court-martial.

Centurion: Yes, my Lord. Oh, there is one other minor matter, a triviality barely worthy of your attention.

Pilate: Yes?

Lights on stage right and center stage. John Baptizer is speaking to a gathered crowd, including townsfolk and disciples.

Centurion: An eccentric hermit known as John Baptizer has begun drawing crowds to hear him preach at the River Jordan. His preaching contains nothing subversive, only talk about turning away from evil behavior. A harmless fool, it seems, but the crowds adore him.

Pilate: Very well, but I want you to keep an eye on this fool. The moment he says or does anything alarming, I want him removed, quietly.

Centurion saluting: Yes, Your Excellency.

Scene 3: John Baptizer

(Lk 3:7-18; Mt 3:13-17)

Centurion moves stage right and joins crowd. Lights off stage left.

Baptizer: You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God's coming judgment? Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God. Don't just say, "We're safe – we're the descendants of Abraham." That proves nothing. God can change these stones here into children of Abraham. Even now the ax of God's judgment is poised, ready to sever your roots. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.

Townsfolk 1: What should we do?

Baptizer: If you have two coats, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.

Soldier 1: And what should we do?

Baptizer: Don't extort money, and don't accuse people falsely. Be content with your pay.

Townsfolk 2: Are you the Savior we've been waiting for?

Jesus sets down his tools and starts to move stage right, listening to John Baptizer.

Baptizer: I baptize with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am – so much greater that I am not even worthy to untie his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the grain with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, storing the grain in his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.

Baptizer sees Jesus and kneels at his feet.

Baptizer: I ought to be baptized by you. Why have you come to me?

Jesus raises him up.

Jesus: For now this is how it should be, because we must do all that God wants us to do.

Baptizer lowers Jesus down, then raises him up again. Dazzling light display. Booming voice.

God: This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.

Townsfolk approach Jesus to give him praise, but never reach him.

Scene 4: Temptation

(Mt 4:1-10)

Chaotic music, lights off all but center stage, leaving only Jesus, disoriented, for several seconds. He falls to his knees, weary. Lights on below stage, where Satan swiftly glides to Jesus, who is startled and dismayed by his sudden appearance.

Satan: Jesus, if you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.

Jesus: It is written: "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."

Satan grabs Jesus and drags him upstage, lights on.

Satan: If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here. For it is written: "He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone."

Jesus: It is also written: "Do not put the Lord your God to the test."

Satan: Look, Son of God. Behold, all the kingdoms of the world, with their authority and splendor. These belong to me, and I can give them to anyone I wish. Worship me, and they will all be yours.

Jesus: Away from me, Satan! For it is written: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only."

Satan walks off in disgust. Angels come and help Jesus to his feet. One hands him a bowl of water to drink, and the other helps him on with his cloak. Exeunt.

Scene 5: Centurion Report

Lights on stage left, Centurion. Lights off upstage.

Centurion: King Herod has had the one they call John the Baptizer arrested. It seems he accused the king of having unlawfully married his brother's wife, and Herod took it personally.

Pilate chuckling: Yes, I'll bet he did. So all that messianic nonsense is done with for the moment?

Centurion: I'm afraid not, Your Excellency. A new "Messiah" has appeared, Jesus of Nazareth, claiming to be the son of their God. Many Jews claim to have seen him perform miracles, such as healing the sick and casting out demons.

Pilate: Hmm. Is he dangerous?

Centurion: Not as far as I can tell, my Lord. He does not advocate rebellion against Rome. In fact, he tells his followers to obey the law of Caesar.

Pilate: Then why bother me with stories about him?

Centurion: Well, Your Excellency, some people are claiming this Jesus is the rightful King of the Jews.

Pilate: Yes, well, I'm sure that would give our friend Herod some headaches. Why should it concern me?

Centurion: Only because enough people are flocking to him that if he ever did decide to lead a rebellion, putting it down would require a small army.

Pilate: I see. I ask you again. Is he dangerous?

Centurion: I do not think so, my Lord. From all I have seen, he is a man of peace.

Pilate sighs: Very well, then. Keep an eye on him, and remove him at the first sign of trouble. Whatever you do, don't get involved in Jewish politics. We don't want to spark a rebellion by our own actions. If we wait this out, this Jesus of Nazareth is bound to fade away just like all the others before him.

Centurion salutes: Yes, Your Excellency. Exit, lights off.

Scene 6: First Disciples

(Mt 4:19)

Lights on stage right, the four disciples are working with fishing nets. Enter Jesus.

Jesus: Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Exeunt joyfully.

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