Things We Thought We Knew

Things We Thought We Knew

April 14, 2019 | Readers Theater

    Things We Thought We Knew
    A dramatic reading for Palm/Passion Sunday
    by Rev. Kerry Greenhill, @ 2012, revised 2015
    Peter, Mary Magdalene, Pharisee, Roman soldier, Judas
    Five people who were present for the life and death of Jesus reflect on what he meant to them, from the perspective of the day after his crucifixion.

    In the beginning,
    we thought we knew everything.
    We thought a new age was dawning,
    that everything was about to change.
    We thought we knew who he was,
    what he intended to do,
    what he could do for us,
    what we would do with him.
    In the beginning,
    we were so full of hope
    and enthusiasm for God,
    who was making all things possible
    and new.

    In the beginning,
    I thought I had nothing to offer.
    I knew my place in the world,
    or out of it,
    since no one would come near me.
    I thought things would always go on
    the way they had always been.
    I heard men talking about Messiahs
    and revolution,
    but that had nothing to do with me.
    ln the beginning,
    I was nothing,
    empty of everything
    but shame.

    In the beginning,
    we weren't that worried.
    Sure, there were rumors
    about the peasant wonder-worker
    and his ragtag band of followers.
    But prophets and healers
    are a shekel a dozen,
    and this guy wasn't connected to anyone
    He was a minor nuisance,
    someone to keep an eye on,
    but no one to get worked up about.
    In the beginning,
    he didn't even warrant a mention
    in the Council minutes.

    In the beginning,
    I was glad to be assigned to Jerusalem.
    Pretty far from home,
    but a big enough city
    to see a little action now and then.
    Not that I wanted people to get hurt,
    mind you,
    but festival crowd control
    was a lot more interesting
    than enforcing tax collection.
    The Jews were okay, mostly.
    A few troublemakers among them,
    like anywhere,
    but they'd already risen up
    and been put down
    before I got there.
    ln the beginning.
    I figured it'd be an easy job.

    In the beginning,
    I thought we were on the same side.
    Or maybe,
    I thought I could be on his side.
    It was so exciting,
    being part of the cause, the movement,
    the revolution.
    Of course,
    that was just in the beginning.

    I had never walked more than five miles
    from the town where I was born.
    Where my father was born,
    and his father, and so on.
    I had a good life, out on the lake;
    no guarantees, of course,
    and plenty of weeks
    when the nets weren't full enough,
    but I knew who I was and what I was doing.
    It was enough for me.
    Until he came.
    And once he started talking
    about fishing for people,
    about the kin'dom of God
    that was breaking forth in our midst,
    about how the order of the world
    wasn't necessarily a sign
    of who God cared about the most
    or how it would always be,
    I knew I couldn't go back.

    I had never been part of anything before.
    You probably don't know what it's like.
    to be so trapped in your own head,
    your own skin,
    your own demon-tangled spirit,
    that you barely even notice
    what others say, or do, or expect.
    But you do notice that you're alone.
    My parents did the best they could
    to keep me safe, to keep me from hurting myself
    or from being targeted by those who thought
    I would curse them somehow to be like me.
    But I was always alone.
    And then he came,
    and I can't explain it,
    but the voices, the buzzing, the circling
    died down.
    And I was clear.
    And he invited me to follow him.
    And I knew I couldn't go back.

    It all changed when he went up on that mountain.
    Peter and James and John were the only ones
    who know what happened up there,
    and they never gave me a straight answer about it.
    But it was about that time
    he started talking about death--his death--
    and how before it was all over
    he would suffer, and be killed,
    for the sake of the Reign of God.
    I hated hearing it--
    we all did--
    but when we tried to convince him
    we could keep him safe
    from those who were threatened by his popularity,
    he told us that safety wasn't really the point.
    We were hearing plenty of rumors by then,
    about what had happened to his cousin John,
    and that the Pharisees and the chief priests
    were worried about how the Romans would react
    if the people got riled up
    during the Passover festival.
    But there was no changing his mind.
    We were going to Jerusalem,
    no matter the cost.

    It all changed
    when they started moving toward Jerusalem
    Of course, by then
    we'd had plenty of time to get concerned.
    That Nazarene started attracting attention,
    not just among the hopeless and lowly,
    but the Romans started hearing about him,
    and Herod had been monitoring him too,
    ever since the whole John the Baptizer debacle.
    We'd confronted him before;
    it wasn't his first rodeo,
    if you'll pardon the expression.
    We had challenged his teachings,
    trying to show the people
    that he was just another charlatan
    out for his own gain.
    Unfortunately, he was extremely quick on his feet,
    and we usually ended up
    looking more foolish than he.
    It was so infuriating,
    and he seemed completely oblivious
    to the possibility of what the Romans might do
    if that crowd of his got a little too carried away
    and started rioting.
    So this time, we had a plan.
    We would keep the peace for the sake of the
    no matter the cost.

    The same things happen every year.
    The same people show up
    for the same ritual celebrations,
    telling the same stories they've always told.
    Honestly, I'd think it'd get boring.
    At least at home
    there are dozens of gods to choose from,
    a million ways to pay homage
    and make up for whatever stupid things
    you've done.
    But it all changed that Sunday,
    when Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor,
    was entering the city with all his cavalry
    on the west side of Jerusalem,
    and this nobody from the northern backwaters
    rode a donkey into town from the east.
    Guess which parade I got to cover?
    Not the big, important, fancy one, that's for sure.
    But there was something about this guy,
    and the people who lined the roads to see him.
    From what I overheard,
    I guess there was some prophecy
    in their sacred scrolls
    about a king who would enter the city like that,
    a king who would bring peace to the nations.
    Kind of impressive, I guess.
    Not that you'd catch me waiting by roadsides
    to cheer for the latest celebrity.
    I'm no fanatic, no fool.
    You know, in spite of all the hoopla,
    I got the impression
    he wasn't usually the kind of guy
    that makes a big show.
    He seemed kind of quiet, actually.
    This guy was no king,
    but he was plenty popular,
    and with a hundred thousand pilgrims
    either already in town or on their way,
    that was enough reason to keep an eye on him.
    I had a job to do,
    no matter the cost.

    When we came into Jerusalem,
    I saw that the people were with us.
    And as scared as I was,
    I wanted to weep with joy.

    When we came into Jerusalem,
    I didn't really understand what was happening.
    We were there for Passover,
    but he seemed to want to make a statement, too.
    It was kind of amazing,
    all those people, cheering,
    laying down the branches and cloaks in the road,
    like we were conquerors,
    like royalty,
    like we were somebody and we had finally

    It was only later
    that we realized he'd been saying goodbye
    all along.
    He was always a couple steps ahead of us;
    he just seemed to understand
    the way the world worked
    and he knew he'd reached the end of the road.

    In the beginning
    there were actually times
    when I found myself thinking,
    "What if he's right?"
    What if the law and the prophets are more about
    showing the loving kindness of God
    to all people,
    than about setting lsrael apart
    as a holy and separate people, kept pure
    through obedience to every detail of the law?
    What if God cares less
    about what is clean or unclean
    than whether the heart is dedicated to love?
    But that way chaos lies.
    What kind of religion,
    what kind of people
    can do away with the law?
    You start to ask questions like that,
    soon enough you've unraveled everything.
    He started out on the wrong path,
    and now he'd reached the end of the road.

    It was only later
    that I wondered if all those people
    with their cloaks and palm branches
    knew something I didn't know.
    Saw something I didn't see.
    I mean, the rest of that week
    went from bad to worse,
    and by Friday he looked
    anything but kingly.
    Still, there was something about him
    that made me wonder:
    what was he giving his life to?
    Was it worth it? all that suffering?
    And why did those women and fools
    keep following him,
    to the bitter end
    of that awful road?

    In the beginning
    it was easy enough to follow.
    We had such hope.
    He was so . . . inspiring.
    But it went downhill so fast.
    And when I saw which way the wind was
    I didn't want to be caught looking like a fool.
    I wasn't going to be the last man standing
    when he came to the end of that road.
    I wish . . .
    I wish it could have turned out differently.
    I wish I could have had more faith,
    or gotten out faster,
    or had the strength to see it through.
    As soon as I'd done it,
    I knew it was the wrong thing.
    But it was too late.
    There was no going back.
    And I couldn't bear to face him
    ever again.

    It was only later
    that I realized
    I was no different from the rest.
    No different from the crowd,
    that cried "Hosanna!" on Sunday
    and "Crucify!" on Friday.
    No different from the Pharisees,
    who were watching out for themselves
    and the only way of thinking about the world
    they could imagine.
    No different from the Romans,
    who knew what they wanted--
    orderly peace, unquestioned power--
    and didn't much care what it took
    to achieve or maintain it.
    I was no different even from Judas,
    though we were all shocked and disgusted
    that he would betray us all
    just for money.
    But what could I say?
    I couldn't even tell the truth
    about who I was
    or where I was from,
    what I was doing there
    or what I had given my life to.
    All I wated to do,
    that Friday and Sabbath Day,
    was run away and hide.

    In the beginning,
    it all seemed so clear
    and important.
    I had never been part of anything,
    and I found my life with him,
    with all of them,
    traveling around together,
    seeing the way of God
    come alive in our midst.
    But it all changed so quickly.
    We went to Jerusalem for Passover,
    remembering the night long ago
    when our children were spared
    and our oppressors suffered deeply.
    But the Angel of Death did not spare him.
    Now we are lost.
    We have come to the end of the road,
    and he's gone.
    He seemed so pure and so holy,
    so full of love and life,
    I don't think any of us believed
    it could possibly end this way.
    Now there is nothing to do but wait.
    Until the Sabbath is over,
    and we can dress the body,
    and someone figures out what we do next.
    There are so many things
    we thought we knew.
    But now we have to rethink everything.