Sunday, 3 December 2017

The PCC (Parochial Capernaum Council) meeting

A sketch

Jesus and three of his disciples — Peter, Judas and Mary Magdalene — are at Peter’s house. They are having a meeting.

Peter: So, welcome friends to our ’umble abode-by-the-sea for tonight’s meeting of the Parochial Capernaum Council. We seem a bit thin on the ground today. A nasty old night out there, I know.

Jesus: A big thank you to your mother-in-law, Peter, for her kind hospitality.

Peter: She’s been so grateful to you for making her better.

Jesus: I’m grateful she stayed better too. One of my first healings — so a bit of hinge moment. 

Judas: Mmmm… excellent biscuits she does, too.

Peter: Always the first with the hand in the tin, eh, Judas? So, Jesus, over to you, you’re in the chair. What’s today’s agenda?

Jesus: No, you lead, Peter.

Judas: Him?! It’s always him — or James and John. ‘The dream team’ indeed.

Peter: Some people’s stocks just can’t help rising, you see Judas. Jesus knows who’ll never let him down.

Mary: You men — why’s everything a competition?

Peter: You’d know a bit about men of course, eh Mary?

Jesus: My dear children… We’re here for some planning: part of our teaching programme.

Judas: Thought the teaching was your job, Jesus.

Peter: I’m up for it. So what do you want us to teach?

Jesus: That’s up to you. What do you think people need?

Judas: Good financial management. That’s the heart of things. Neglect your finances and the whole thing collapses. I could do a course. I’ve picked up good tips off the synagogue guys: how to get people to give, Roman-tax avoidance, that sort of thing.

Jesus: Money skills are certainly important, Judas. And you’re quite right, we should all use the talents we’ve got — we need you in the team. But let’s not start there.

Peter: Guerrilla resistance skills. We’ll need those to secure your kingdom, Master. I can see a great teaching plan: Part 1 — Verbal Subversion, or ‘How to pull the rug out from under your enemies whilst pretending to love them’. You’re a past master at it Jesus. Then Part 2 — Combat Skills. I’ve an old sword stashed away — bit rusty, never used it, but I’m going to need it one day I know. So guys, agreed? Great! Let’s go.

Mary: Oh put the male macho stuff away, Peter. This isn’t the bleeding Apprentice.

Judas: I’m with you, there, luv. Alpha males, eh?

Jesus: Mmm, ‘Alpha’… You could use that, if you wanted. Start people with the basics. Call it ‘the Alpha course’ perhaps. Just seeding a thought…

Peter: ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was Alpha.’ Oh no, I’m starting to sound like John.

Judas: We could keep it going all the way to Omega. Franchise it. What a money-spinner that’d be.

Jesus: The Alpha and the Omega - mmm, powerful… But we shouldn’t encourage people to run before they can walk. Spiritual safeguarding’s central — we need to nurture good practice.

Judas: Mmm, compulsory pastoral modules then — a good income stream…

Jesus: Mary, you’re very quiet. What ideas have you got?

Peter: [uppity] I thought I was chairing this.

Mary: Thank you, Master. You hear what folk are crying out for. ‘Teach us to pray,’ they’re saying.

Judas: Prayer — excellent idea! The Pharisees have got some great materials. ‘Impress through Prayer’, they call it. Tips like standing in as public a place as possible — common sense, really.

Peter: I worry about you, mate… Mary, this was your idea — which means, according to the ancient tradition we would never wish to break: you’ll be doing it. What’s your big idea?

Mary: Sitting together on the beach.

Peter: The beach?! What’s that got to do with prayer? That’s the Lake. That’s work.

Mary: [ignoring him] That’s where I meet God. The calm, the stillness. Or in a storm — doesn’t matter. Gather some pebbles, meditate, listen to God together.

Peter: Wouldn’t float my fishing boat, I’m afraid. Though we could do a beach bar-b-q — that’d make it worthwhile.

Judas: And who’d be paying for that, then?

Peter: [sighs]… Jesus, you’re the one being quiet now. Prayer — surely this is you’re gig.

Jesus: Thanks for asking, Peter. As it happens, yes, I’ve got something brewing. ‘Our Father,’ it starts… Haven’t got further than that yet. I’m sure it’ll come, though.

Mary: You see, Master, you’re the centre of this, not us. All these big ideas, but the only thing that matters is you’re there.

Jesus: Thank you, Mary. Profound, as ever. I will always be with you. Even when I’m gone.

Peter: Gone?? Oh, of course, healing duty calls again. I wondered what all the racket was outside. You’d think your devoted fan club would give you a rest in this weather.

Jesus: Never a dull moment in the PCC, eh, Peter?

Peter: So, meeting closed. And the ball’s in your court with this prayer thing then, Master.

Jesus: The ball’s in all of our courts. Let’s go — and I hope you’ve been praying.

Alphaeus adds:
Sketch written for a discussion on church-based discipleship groups for the South West Ministry Training Course, Nov 2017.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Three Crosses
A sketch

 The two thieves crucified either side of Jesus...  
...are now in heaven.

They are sitting at a table outside 'The New Jerusalem Arms', enjoying a drink and the panoramic view over the Celestial City. 

Reuben: So, the New Jerusalem, eh? What an f-ing beautiful place! ‘F’ for flipping fantastic, of course.

Simeon: Isn’t our language smooth these days! And yes — sparkling crystals and jewels everywhere.

Reuben: I’d have grabbed them and ran, in our past life. Mind you, I wouldn’t know what half these precious stones even are.

Simeon: We should ask old St John to give us a tour. He seemed quite the jewel expert in his Revelation epic — cornelian, chrysolite, jacinth: I mean, what are they?

Reuben: All John’s stuff’s just Greek to me.

Simeon: Old Jerusalem — that seems another world now. It was quite some view of the city we had from our crosses, wasn’t it?

Reuben: There you were, greasing up to Jesus, going down in history as the goodie-goodie. And now you’re claiming you were admiring the view!

Simeon: That’s what I tell folk around here, anyway — got to keep up appearances. I might have been a thief, but at least I’m the respectable one.

Reuben: Status counts for nothing here, you know that!

Simeon: I know, I know. Look at James and John!

Reuben: Yeah, what a laugh, eh? They go pitching in to be at the left and right hands of Jesus. And look who it was?

Simeon: Us! Yeah, who would believed it. Top moment in human history, and look who’s in the photo frame with Jesus — Youtube hits and the rest? You and me, mate! 

Reuben: Proved a good bet, that crime, as it turned out! Only joking! You said we got what we deserved. Well, it turns out we’ve all got a whole lot more than we deserved...!

Simeon: Weird place, the Kingdom of God, eh?

Reuben: Anyway, do you know what the first thing Jesus said to me was when I arrived?

Simeon: What was that, then?

Reuben: ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘You’re thanking me?’ I say. ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘What for?’ I say, ‘foul-mouthing you?’ ‘Keeping me company,’ he says. My jaw fell out the sky.

Simeon: He said just the same to me. ‘Couldn’t have done it on my own,’ he says! I was flabbergasted.

Reuben: Me too. I was totally stumped what to say. So you know what I go and do? This tune comes to me, and I start humming, ‘always look on the bright side of life, eh, Jesus?’ And he just cracks up: ‘something like that,’ he says.

Simeon: And let me guess, he then goes all serious. 

Reuben: Yeah, how do you know? He says, ‘I mean it.’ And I look puzzled but have a stab: ‘because you were human?’ I say. And he says, ‘Yes.’ Then he looks like he’s going to add something but then hesitates and seems to change his mind, and goes on. ‘You accompanied me to the edge. That was a lonely place,’ he says. ‘What you did for the least of these, you did for me,’ he says. ‘What are you talking about, Jesus?’ I say. And he says, ‘you were with me in my pain and in my need. You were ministering to me.’

Simeon: Blimey, mate. Turns things upside down alright, doesn’t he? We were ministering to him?

Reuben: Well, I was, he said! Yeah, both of us, of course.

Simeon: You know, what he said about appreciating it being because he was human, and then he might have said something else? I think I know what it was.

Reuben: Just because you spotted he was the Son of God, you now think you know his thoughts, eh? 

Simeon: That’s just it, you see. To your question about whether he appreciated the company because he was human, I think he was going to say, ‘Yes. And No.’ And then he would add, ‘It’s also because I’m God.’ 

Reuben: You’re getting ahead of me there, mate!

Simeon: You see, I didn’t do much better with what I came out with, when Jesus thanked me. I blurted out, ‘Two’s company — but wasn’t three a bit of a crowd?’ — knowing you hadn’t shown him huge respect. I’m sorry, mate!

Reuben: Well, thanks a bundle. That’s our friendship gone! So what did he say?

Simeon: He said, ‘three was just perfect!’ And I thought, ‘doh, oh yes, it would be, wouldn’t it?’

Reuben: I’m still not following you.

Simeon: Look around you — it’s because there’s three of them here, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And there always was.

Reuben: Oh, I get it. No I don’t actually, this three-in-one thing, but I can see it, so that’ll do.

Simeon: Jesus hardly needed to say it then, but he still added, ‘having two for company, it made me feel at home’.

Reuben: What, like we were the Trinity?! Well, that’s a thing! So the Romans thought they were doing a three-for-the-price-of-one offer on punishment / entertainment / call it what you will, and they were really helping Jesus out…

Simeon: …and setting up a model of the Trinity. Profound, eh?

Reuben: So… that’s got me thinking. Which of us was which, then?

Simeon: The Father and the Spirit, you mean?

Reuben: Yeah. You’re the one who pretends to have some sense of responsibility. So you’ve got to be the Dad.

Simeon: And you’re the wild, unpredictable one — the Spirit, obviously!

Reuben: Looks like we’ve got it sussed. So, how do we make the most of this? — our celebrity status as Right- and Left-Hand companions for Jesus on the Cross — and now Father- and Spirit-substitutes too?

Simeon: Not quite the point, I think!

Reuben: But something to wind James and John up with.

Simeon: Alright — let’s have some fun. Come on….


Alphaeus adds:
The four Gospel writers each relate the men crucified with Jesus differently: see Luke 23 vv32,39-43 for the most well known account, but also by contrast Matthew 27 vv38,44 and Mark 15 vv25-32, and particularly that of John John 19 v18 who refrains from comment on the men's actions.
See Revelation 21 for John's vision of the celestial city.
Sketch written for a Biblical relection for South West Ministry Training Course, Mar 2017.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The slaves

A mini-sketch

Two Roman slaves, characters in Jesus’ story of the wedding banquet, are in conversation...

(Gallio is confident and up-beat. Felicio is a somewhat depressive Eeyore-type character)       

Gallio: Fancy us starring in one Jesus’s stories, eh? Us!

Felicio: We’re hardly stars. We’re just part of the furniture - as ever. Always taken for granted.

Gallio: Of course! 'Go here’, ‘Run there’ - our life in a nutshell, eh?

Felicio: It’s a good story, though, I suppose. Fancy anyone turning down an offer to a feast like that! I would I have given anything to tuck into that succulent spread - and those flagons of wine. But it’s our lot again - serving: yes, gorging: no.

Gallio: Those arrogant, stuck-up folk - insulting our king like that, refusing his invitation. I wanted to punch them to pulp, to save him the job later.

Felicio: Glad you didn’t. Wouldn’t have been good for either of our careers.

Gallio: Yeah, I’m carefully clocking up the years of service and the gold stars. You’ve got to be strategic - I’ve got my sights set on earning my freedom, alright. 

Felicio: Mmm, freedom. Jesus tells a story about slaves, but is there a mention of freedom for us in it? No. We’re obviously just part of the furniture to him too. And I thought he would be our saviour.

Gallio: Ah, but think who’s he’s talking to. The walls have ears, you know - plus Roman officers patrolling everywhere these days, all with their own slaves. One hint of slave insurrection, and Jesus would be meat served up at their next banquet. They all remember Spartacus!

Felicio: ’suppose so…

Gallio: Plus look at who came to the banquet in the end!

Felicio: What do you mean?

Gallio: “Then the king said to his slaves, ‘go into the main streets, and invite everyone you find.’ ” Where are us slaves half the day, as we ‘go there’ and ‘run there’? On the streets. He meant slaves too.

Felicio: Slaves? Us? Invited to the great banquet?

Gallio: Yep! Us.

Felicio: Wow!

Gallio: So Jesus was preaching insurrection after all. It was buried in his story. Oh, that was clever!

Felicio: I’m so relieved. My faith is restored.

Gallio: It’ll take a while, though, freedom. In the meantime, do keep restraining me when I wanna throw a punch and kick-start the rebellion.

Felicio: And in the meantime now, look! We’ve got a taste of freedom - all those left-overs from the banquet we can scoff as we clear up. I’ve no problem picking up the crumbs from under this table.

Gallio: Our very own feast. Come on.


Alphaeus adds:
This conversation follows a story Jesus told about a wedding banquet (see Matthew 22 vv1-14).
The sketch was written for Freedom Sunday 2017 (linked to Anti-Slavery Day), which raises awareness of modern-day slavery.
With thanks to Marcus Sidonius Falx (alias Jerry Toner) for his informative and entertaining book about Roman slaves, How to Manage your Slaves.