A Maundy Thursday Play

by Mark Mattison

A Maundy Thursday Play is made publicly available through the Creative Commons License – Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike 3.0 United States. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/us for full details.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

 JESUS
PETER
JUDAS
MARY
MARTHA
THOMAS
OTHER FEMALE DISCIPLES
OTHER MALE DISCIPLES
CAIAPHAS
CHIEF PRIESTS 1 AND 2

 

 STAGE SETUP

(The five scenes alternate between two parts of the stage. Stage Right displays a modest room with a table and seats. The table is stocked with bread and cups. Stage Left displays the court of CAIAPHAS, the High Priest. CAIAPHAS and CHIEF PRIEST 2 quietly confer.)

 

 Scene 1: The Gospel

(JESUS, PETER, JUDAS, THOMAS, and a diverse group of OTHER FEMALE DISCIPLES and OTHER MALE DISCIPLES enter from Stage Right. PETER heads to the far end of the table.)

PETER

Oh, no one’s willing to take the head seat? I guess I’ll take it — if no one else will.

(Everyone sits, with JUDAS at the opposite end of the table from PETER.  An empty seat separates JESUS from THOMAS.)

 JUDAS

That’s not the head, Peter; that’s the tail. This seat is the head of the table.

(The OTHER FEMALE DISCIPLES and OTHER MALE DISICPLES chuckle.)

JESUS

C’mon, guys. You know better than this. Be careful about picking the best seat. You don’t want somebody to ask you to move down, do you? Isn’t it better to choose a more humble seat and be asked to move up?

(MARTHA enters the room with a platter of fruit.)

 JESUS

Remember what I was telling you earlier? Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted.

(JESUS rises while MARTHA sets the fruit on the table.) 

JESUS

Here, Martha.

(JESUS pulls out his seat for MARTHA. She takes his seat and JESUS sits between her and THOMAS.) 

PETER

(Smirking)

You’re right, Judas. Your seat is the head seat. 

JUDAS

No, I’m pretty sure yours is the head. 

JESUS

Guys, guys. Life isn’t about getting ahead, it’s about giving, right? For example, when you throw a feast, don’t just invite your friends and family. Invite people who can’t pay you back, like those who are poor. Then you’ll have your reward. 

MARTHA

Won’t it be great to feast in the kingdom of heaven? 

JESUS

Actually, Martha, the kingdom isn’t going to come by watching and waiting. You won’t be able to say “Look over here!” or “Look over there!” The kingdom of heaven is already here, but most people just don’t see it. 

THOMAS

Rabbi, tell us where it is! 

JESUS

(Sympathetically)

It’s right here, Thomas.

(Pressing his hand against THOMAS’ chest)

It’s inside of you. 

PETER

(Grabbing some fruit)

Wow, this fruit looks delicious. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m starved. 

 

Scene 2: The Plot

(Stage Left. CAIAPHAS sulks in his chair, CHIEF PRIEST 2 at his side. CHIEF PRIEST 1 joins them from Stage Left.) 

CAIAPHAS

(Worried)

How bad is it?

CHIEF PRIEST 1

It’s bad. This Jesus is performing many signs. If we don’t do something, more people will follow him! 

CHIEF PRIEST 2

But is he really a threat? It’s not like he’s organizing his followers for an armed revolt. 

CHIEF PRIEST 1

It doesn’t matter whether he preaches violence. He’s preaching another kingdom, and you know the Romans won’t tolerate that for one minute. They’ll crush our people! 

CAIAPHAS

Especially during the Feast when we’re celebrating our freedom from slavery in Egypt. Rome has always been suspicious about revolution this time of year. 

CHIEF PRIEST 2

But what can we do? If we try to stop him during the Feast, it could start a riot! 

CAIAPHAS

(Standing)

You don’t know anything at all! Don’t you know that it’s better for one man to die for the people than for the whole nation to suffer?

(Thoughtfully)

We just have to turn him over to Pilate. It’s the only way to protect our people. 

CHIEF PRIEST 2

But how do we arrest him? He’s always surrounded by the crowds. 

CAIAPHAS

He can’t spend every minute in the spotlight. If we can just find him alone, we can make our move.

 

Scene 3: The Anointing

(Stage Right. JESUS is eating with THOMAS, MARTHA, PETER, JUDAS, and the OTHER FEMALE DISCIPLES and OTHER MALE DISCIPLES.) 

MARTHA

Rabbi, what’s keeping people from understanding the kingdom of heaven? What is it about people nowadays? 

JESUS

People nowadays are like children in the street playing games about weddings and funerals. They call out to each other and say, “We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance; we mourned, but you didn’t weep.” 

MARTHA

(Puzzled)

Why are you making that comparison, Rabbi? 

JESUS

Think about it. John the Baptist didn’t eat bread or drink wine, and they said he was crazy. I’m happy to eat and drink, and they say I’m a glutton and a drunk.

(Smiles knowingly)

But Mother Wisdom is vindicated by all her children, isn’t she? 

(MARY enters from Stage Right carrying an alabaster jar. JESUS rises to meet her, moving to Stage Right away from the table.) 

PETER

What’s this? 

MARY

(To PETER)

It’s ointment.

(To JESUS)

Here, Rabbi —

(MARY anoints JESUS’ head with oil, then kneels and anoints his feet.) 

JUDAS

(Standing)

Don’t you know how much that ointment was worth? What a waste! That could’ve been sold for a lot of money and given to those who are poor! 

JESUS

Why are you harassing her? She’s done a good thing. You can always help those who are poor. 

(MARY stands and joins JESUS.) 

PETER

Don’t you get it, Judas? Mary anointed his head because he’s the Messiah, the king who’s going to lead our people to victory against the Romans! 

(The OTHER MALE DISCIPLES nod their agreement.) 

MARY

You mean the Messiah who’s going to be murdered, like so many other prophets, Peter — don’t you remember when he warned us about that? This is for his burial. 

(Shock registers on the faces of JUDAS, PETER, and the OTHER MALE DISCIPLES.) 

JESUS

Mary’s right. Her act of love has given me the strength to face the coming storm.   

(PETER, JUDAS, and the OTHER MALE DISCIPLES exchange puzzled glances.) 

JESUS

(Smiling at MARY)

Believe me, wherever the good news is preached, what she’s just done will always be told —

(Turning back to JUDAS)

— in remembrance of her. 

(Shocked, JUDAS moves to Stage Left for the next scene.) 

 

Scene 4: The Betrayal

(Stage Left. JUDAS approaches CHIEF PRIEST 1 and quietly confers with him. CHIEF PRIEST 1 approaches CAIAPHAS.) 

CHIEF PRIEST 1

Someone’s here to see you, Caiaphas. 

CAIAPHAS

Who is it? 

CHIEF PRIEST 1

It’s one of Jesus’ closest followers.

(Looking back to JUDAS)

I think this is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. 

CAIAPHAS

Well don’t just stand there, send him in! 

(CHIEF PRIEST 1 motions JUDAS to approach.) 

CAIAPHAS

So. You’re one his followers? 

JUDAS

I used to be.

(Pause)

But not anymore. 

CAIAPHAS

(Motioning JUDAS and the CHIEF PRIESTS to huddle)

Let’s talk. 

(They exit Stage Left.) 

 

Scene 5: The Last Supper

(Stage Right. JESUS continues to dine with PETER, MARY, MARTHA, THOMAS, and the OTHER FEMALE DISCIPLES and OTHER MALE DISCIPLES.) 

JESUS

I’ve really been wanting to share this Feast with you while we still have time. 

PETER

The time is near, isn’t it? We’re all going to rule over the kingdom now, aren’t we? 

(The OTHER MALE DISCIPLES nod and murmur their agreement.) 

JESUS

The Romans lord it over people, but I don’t want you to have anything to do with that. Whoever wants to be great among you has to become your servant. 

PETER

(Puzzled)

What do you mean?

JESUS

Well, who’s more important? The person sitting at the table, or the person serving? Isn’t it the person sitting at the table? But look — I’m serving. 

(JESUS removes his coat, wraps a towel around his waist, pours water into a bowl, and kneels down at MARY’s feet.)

(MARY places her hand on her heart.) 

MARY

Rabbi, I — 

JESUS

It’s your turn now, Mary. 

(JESUS washes MARY’s feet, kisses them, then moves to PETER.) 

PETER

What’s this? 

JESUS

I’m going to wash your feet too. 

PETER

But why? I don’t understand. 

JESUS

(Washing)

You will. 

PETER

(Moving his feet away)

Rabbi, you’ll never wash my feet! 

MARY

(Rolling her eyes)

Oh, Peter. 

JESUS

(Looking up)

If I don’t wash you, you don’t belong to me. 

PETER

In that case, don’t just wash my feet. Wash my hands and head too! 

JESUS

Don’t get carried away. You’ve already taken a bath, right? 

(Everyone smiles. Some giggle.) 

JESUS

Look, this is an example for all of you. 

(MARY, MARTHA, THOMAS, OTHER FEMALE DISCIPLES, and OTHER MALE DISCIPLES follow JESUS’ example, washing each others’ feet. PETER hesitates, then joins them. When everyone reclines at the table again, JESUS lifts the elements from the table and recites the Words of Consecration.) 

(The actresses and actors leave the stage and present the Eucharist to the congregation.)

 

NOTES ON THIS SCRIPT

The structure of this play is organized around Mark’s chronology (which Matthew follows), which narrates the plot against Jesus (Mark 14:1,2) and the anointing (Mark 14:3-9), immediately followed by Judas’ betrayal (Mark 14:10,11) and the Last Supper (Mark 14:12-21). These pericopes correspond to scenes 2 through 5.

Church tradition identifies the woman who anointed Jesus as Mary Magdalene, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t identify her, in spite of Jesus’ unequivocal proclamation that she would be remembered (Mark 14:9; Matthew 26:13). John identifies her as Mary of Bethany and places the event six days prior to the Last Supper (John 11:2; 12:1). Whether she was Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, or someone else, this script reflects the Gospels’ ambiguity by not specifying which “Mary” is the principal character. By including the narrative of Jesus’ anointing, this script seeks to restore it to its central place in the passion story, emphasizing the similarity between the story told “in remembrance of her” and the story of the Last Supper celebrated “in remembrance of” Jesus.

Matthew and Mark narrate the anointing of Jesus’ head, whereas John (like Luke) narrates the anointing of Jesus’ feet (John 12:1-8), which in turn foreshadows Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet soon thereafter (John 13:3-17). This script includes both the anointing of his head and his feet and explores the multiple implications (kingship, suffering, servanthood). Luke also moves the event to a much earlier point in Jesus’ ministry (Luke 7:36-50), so this script has liberally taken some of the context of the Lukan version to frame it (specifically, 7:31-35). Finally, the passages from the Gospels of Thomas and Luke in scene 1 were carefully selected to frame the narrative in terms of Jesus’ message. Jesus’ open table fellowship as a manifestation of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Luke 14:7-15) supports the theme of servanthood which unfolds in the Last Supper narrative, especially in Luke’s and John’s versions (cf. Luke 22:24-27; John 13:3-17). The conflation of multiple table fellowship scenes from miscellaneous narratives in Luke (7:36-50; 14:1-15), the house of Simon in Bethany (Mark 14:3 pars.), and the upper room (Mark 14:12-16 pars.) was entirely a matter of expedience for the sake of the play.

The addition of Martha was inspired mainly by Luke 10:38-42 and dovetailed nicely with the theme of the screenplay. It helped to balance out the traditional portrayal of a large exclusive men’s club so characteristic of many Maundy Thursday dramas. (The Gospels don’t mention disciples other than “the twelve” at the Last Supper, but neither do they deny that other disciples from Galilee, including women, were present.) The insertion of Thomas in the context of Luke 17:20,21; Thomas 113 was intended to emphasize the wisdom element of Jesus’ teaching, since Thomas was so strongly identified with the wisdom tradition. The negative portrayal of Peter was patterned after Mark’s portrayal (cf. e.g. Mark 8:29-33), and the Matthean and Markan portrayal of the chief priests’ plot against Jesus was augmented with John’s version (11:47-57) to counter the traditional negative portrayal of “the Jews” opposing Jesus on personal and religious grounds, explaining the opposition against Jesus instead in terms of the Roman imperial occupation and the social-political implications of Jesus’ teaching.

In short, the material in this script was carefully selected and arranged to vigorously emphasize themes in the Gospel accounts themselves that are often overlooked, as well as to sharpen the portrayal of Jesus’ message and include the too-often neglected contribution of key women at the very heart of the Jesus story.

SCRIPTURE SOURCES

  Mark Matthew Luke Thomas John
Scene 1     14:7-15; 17:20,21 113  
Scene 2 14:1,2 26:3-5     11:47-57
Scene 3 14:3-9 26:6-13 7:31-50   12:1-8
Scene 4 14:10,11 26:14-16     13:2
Scene 5 14:22-25 26:26-29 22:14-20   13:3-17

 

FOR FURTHER REFLECTION

Jann Aldredge-Clanton, In Search of the Christ-Sophia: An Inclusive Christology for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press), 2004

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala), 2008

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala), 2010

 

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