As I listened to Matthew’s account of the Passion yesterday, I was once again struck not only by the fact that the trial of Jesus seems to take place in a kangaroo court, but also that so many of the characters abdicate responsibility for the events surrounding the death of Jesus. Pilate washes his hands of the matter, the chief priests refuse to entertain Judas’ act of contrition, and even the crowds use the passive voice when they urge Jesus’ condemnation. Below is a short scene I wrote a few years ago that explores the absurd nature of the trial of Jesus and also the theme of culpability in Matthew’s account of the Passion of our Lord.
Scene: Two stools (or chairs) placed in front of a large sign that reads “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED” in garish lettering. JOHNNY stands just offstage (left). JESUS sits in the stool on the right; BARABBAS sits in the stool on the left.
Johnny: (in an incredibly affected game show announcer voice a la Rod Roddy of “The Price is Right”) Hey Jerusalem! It’s the Passover and you know what that means? It’s time to play LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED. And now the host of Let Him Be Crucified: Pontius Pilate!
Pilate: (entering from stage left) Thanks Johnny. Welcome ladies and gentlemen to Let Him Be Crucified, Jerusalem’s favorite game show! I’m your host, Pontius Pilate; let’s meet our contestants. First we have a young zealot from just outside the city. He’s the boy next store, everybody’s favorite son of a father, Jesus Barabbas! Tell us a little about yourself.
Barabbas: (as jovially as possible) Thanks Pontius, Let me start by saying that I’m really happy to be here. Well, like you said I’m a zealot. I’ve been in prison for a little while because I committed murder during the insurrection…let’s see, in my spare time I enjoy Temple worship, embroidery, and plotting to overthrow the Roman occupiers.
Pilate: That sounds…fun! And what’ll you do if you win our grand prize?
Barabbas: My associates and I will probably get together and plot to overthrow the Roman occupiers.
Pilate: All right then. Let’s move on to our other contestant: Jesus who is called the Messiah (probably not by his mother-in-law. Am I right? Am I right? ANYWAY). Tell us a little about yourself Jesus.
Jesus remains silent and stares directly in front of him.
Pilate: Kind of a strong, silent type huh? And what will you do if you win our grand prize?
Jesus turns his head ever so slightly in Pilate’s direction, regards him briefly, and then turns his eyes to the ground (these motions should take an excruciatingly long time).
Pilate: (shifting nervously and clearing his throat as if to say “let’s change the subject”) All right, let’s play our game. Johnny, why don’t you remind us of the rules?
Johnny: Well Pontius, though each contestant has been charged with a crime that only you are technically able to adjudicate, we’re going to ask our studio audience what they think!
Pilate: Fantastic Johnny! Here we go. May I have a drum roll please? (the crowd obliges) Now…which of these two men do you want me to release for you?
Pilate: We have a winner! (striding over to Barabbas) So, Barabbas, how does it feel to win?
Barabbas: Well Pontius, I’m really excited; I can’t wait to get back on the street and start causing trouble for the Roman authorities again.
Pilate: Well that’s just great! (laughs perfunctorily) In the meantime, Johnny, tell him what he’s won!
Johnny: Barabbas will be released from prison and forced to live under the tyrannical rule of the Roman proconsul!
Pilate: That sounds like it’ll be just swell. (shaking Barabbas’ hand) Good luck to you, and we’ll see you again real soon (exit stage left). So ladies and gentlemen, you know what time it is! What do we do with our other contestant, Jesus who is called the Messiah?
Crowd: (chanting the title of the show a la “Wheel of Fortune”) LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!
Pilate: One more time!
Crowd: (in the same vein) LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!
Pilate: All right, all right…Tough beat, Jesus; have anything to say to the crowd? Jesus turns and stares at Pilate for an extended period of time (at least 15 seconds). Pilate nervously shifts from foot to foot, loosening his tie, etc., but never shifting his gaze from Jesus’. Pilate’s demeanor becomes noticeably more subdued.
Pilate: (still looking at Jesus but slowly backing away) Well everyone, that’s all the time we have. Remember, whatever’s happened here: I’m not to blame. So…yeah. Thanks for joining us on Let Him Be Crucified. I’m Pontius Pilate…goodnight.
Pilate turns and shuffles off stage left, frequently looking at Jesus over his shoulder the entire time. Once Pilate has departed, Jesus slowly stands and walks slowly and purposefully off stage right, staring directly ahead of him.