Rhoda and the Executioner

This short play, based on Acts 12:1-19, can be used by churches in their services. Permission granted! Free! Just let me know how it goes.

A Brief Play from Acts 12:1-19

Cast of Characters

RHODA, a servant of Mary, about 16 years old

THE EXECUTIONER, about 40 years old

SALOME, mother of James, about 60 years old

PETER, about 40 years old

WIFE OF PETER, Her name is unknown, but MIRIAM was the most common female name in first-century Israel, so that’s her name in this play..

JOHN, brother of James, about 35 years old

ANDREW, brother of Peter, about 40 years old

THOMAS, about 40 years old

MARY (mother of John Mark) about 40 years old

ANGEL, dressed in bright white

TWO DISCIPLES

THREE GUARDS

CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD

Time

The play takes place in the early 40s A.D.

Place

Scene One takes place before a prison just outside of Jerusalem and Mary’s house

Please note: a church platform can be divided in half: One half for Mary’s house, and the other half for the prison.

Scene One

THE CURTAIN RISES.  We see a street with a stone-walled prison background.  It has iron bars over the glassless window, and there is a thick wooden door. Chains hang off the prison wall.  A stool is outside near the wall and door.

LIGHTING shows that it is the middle of the day, sunny.

AT RISE:  the stage has no people.

JAMES

Father, forgive him– he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

SOUND:  Offstage a sword hits a block of wood, immediately after JAMES prays.

ENTER: RHODA and SALOME, nervous, through an aisle in the audience. They wear lower-class clothes of the time. Rhoda is carrying a sack of bread, and a jug of water.  They speak when they get on stage, but they may make sounds of stress as they walk through audience.

SALOME

Oh, Rhoda, what’s happening?  I hope we can visit him again. I feel something terrible has happened to my son.  I pray we’re not too late!

RHODA

Me too.  I’ll check.

(Knocking on prison door.)

Hello in there!  Anyone in there?

EXECUTIONER

(Pausing, then speaking gruffly from window.)

Yeah, what do you want?

EXECUTIONER is wearing a black, pullover hood. He talks really gruffly.

RHODA

(Walking to window.)

We were wanting to visit James.

EXECUTIONER

What’s in the sack?  Food . . .  and a drink?  Well . . .  OK.

EXECUTIONER and RHODA go to the door; he opens it only a little revealing scruffy, black clothes; Optional:  apron spattered with blood.  He should not come out completely so that his limp and hunched back would show.

(Grabbing sack and jug.)

I’ll take care of these.

(He slams door and returns to window; Rhoda goes to window.)

You’re too late.  What’s-his-name got his head cut off a few minutes ago, by yours truly.  You should get the body, or I’ll throw it in the common grave.

SALOME and RHODA

(Crying.)

Oh, no!  No!  It can’t be!  Oh, God!  Why?  Why?

EXECUTIONER

Oh, brother!  Emotional women!

SALOME

May we see the body?  He was my son.

EXECUTIONER

No!  You can only see it when you come to get it.

SALOME

(Holding Rhoda.)

Let’s go back to Mary’s house and tell the others.

EXIT: RHODA and SALOME. As they exit, RHODA turns to give him a confused and mean look.

EXECUTIONER

(Sarcastically and waving from window.)

Good-bye!  Good-bye!  Thanks for the food!  Have a nice day!

ENTER:  EXECUTIONER from the prison, without hood. His face and hair are scruffy, and he’s still gruff talking. He wears same scruffy clothes.  If he wears a blood-spattered apron, he should take it off outside.  He has a hunched back and walks with a limp, which the audience should see.  He carries out sword and Rhoda’s sack of bread and water jug.  He sets down sack and jug on stool and briefly cleans sword and leans it against prison wall.  Then, picking up sack and jug and sitting down on stool, he pulls out a bread loaf.

EXECUTIONER

(Briefly cleaning sword.)

Got to get you clean for the next customer– though, what do I care if their blood mingles?  Eh!  A clean sword is a happy sword!

(Sitting, pulling out bread and eating.)

Now for some peace and quiet . . . Not bad for a day’s work . . . This is pretty good.

(Drinking from jug.)

Ahh! Good ol’ strong wine!

(Taking another drink, wiping mouth with sleeve.)

AHH! Women.  They get so worked up over little things.  I do this kind of thing every day. What’s the big deal?  I’m just doing my job, and thanks to Herod I got job security.  If you look at him crosseyed, you come see me. If you clear your throat when you shouldn’t, you come see me. He’s supposed to favor the Jews, and if you’re not with them, then you come see me.

(Standing and drinking a toast each time, mockingly.)

Thanks, King Herod! Long live King Moody! Long live Queen Paranoia, goddess of tyrants and kings, and matron of all Executioners!

(Sitting down.)

ENTER:  RHODA, briskly and is feisty.  She does not care about EXECUTIONER’S back and limp.

RHODA

(Pointing.)

You’re the Executioner, aren’t you?

EXECUTIONER

(Always gruffly.)

Yeah, so what?

RHODA

So what?  You ought to be ashamed of yourself!  That was James’ mother!

EXECUTIONER

So what? I was just–

RHODA

–Just doing your job?  Don’t you have any sense or decency?

EXECUTIONER

No!

RHODA

Or kindness?

EXECUTIONER

Not a bit.

RHODA

You knew, you knew that was his mother!  You don’t break that kind of news to a distressed mother.  Please!

EXECUTIONER

Look, I don’t care who you are or who she was.  Now get out of here!

RHODA

Do you know who you executed?

EXECUTIONER

No, and I don’t care.

RHODA

James was a good and honorable man.  His only crime was to pray and preach good news to people.

(Yelling.)

He was the father I never had!

EXECUTIONER

So what?  I did what I had to do!  You and his prayers!  Pray?  Look where that got him!  I don’t see him preaching now, do you?  Look, I don’t get involved in politics or family matters.  I carry out my orders and that’s it, end of story.

RHODA

You are a hard-hearted murderer!  That’s not the end of your story, no way.

EXECUTIONER

(Sneeringly.)

Ha!  Who are you, anyway?

RHODA

I want justice!– on you and all your kind!  I want justice on the ones who gave the orders!  I want justice on Herod too!  What did THEY ever do that equaled the things that James did?  THEIR head should’ve been lopped off, not his!

EXECUTIONER

(With levity and patting sword.)

I’m the man to do it!

RHODA

Did they heal the sick and cast out demons?  Did they preach the gospel as James did? Did they follow Jesus whom they crucified years ago?  Where’s the justice in that?

EXECUTIONER

(Still very gruff and sneering.)

Justice?  You want justice in this world?  I was just doing my job. THAT’S justice!  Now get out of here, or I’ll–

ENTER:  TWO DISCIPLES, dressed in lower-class clothes, and carrying a stretcher and white sheet.  EXECUTIONER and RHODA get distracted momentarily.

DISCIPLE ONE

Rhoda!  Mary and Salome are worried about you; Salome said you’d be here; Mary wants you to come back right now.

(To Executioner.)

Uh . . . excuse me, sir . . . we’re looking for the body of James.

EXECUTIONER

It’s in there.  Here, I’ll show you.

EXIT:  EXECUTIONER and TWO DISCIPLES into prison.  RHODA stands alone and prays.  She is positioned so that she still does not see the EXECUTIONER’S back or his limping into prison.  She may face the audience in her prayer.

RHODA

ENTER: TWO DISCIPLES, and EXECUTIONER last from prison. DISCIPLES are carrying wrapped body on stretcher.  EXECUTIONER ignores the body, sits back down on stool, and continues eating and drinking while passively amused at spectacle. RHODA is so preoccupied with the body that she does not notice EXECUTIONER’S condition.

DISCIPLE ONE

Rhoda, this is no place for you.  Come on back with us.

RHODA

(To two disciples.)

Wait!  Brothers, lay down your sacred load.

(Disciples lay body down; Rhoda kneels, puts her hand on it and speaks tearfully.)

James, dear James.  You were the father I never had . . . .  And here you are . . . .  You were good and honorable.  Yet, here you are . . . .  You showed love to the downtrodden.  Oh, daddy, you were always good and kind to me:  when some treated me as the slave I am, you saw me as your equal . . . .  You used to say we were so much alike . . .  our fiery temperaments and everything . . . .  Oh, daddy, I can’t believe you’re gone!

!Angrily.)

Lord, I want justice for James! Weren’t you supposed to protect your church?  Wasn’t James one of the three who spent the most time with you?  Someone has to pay for his death! I ask you to rain down your fire of judgment on these people! Bring forth your justice! Justice! JUSTICE!

(Angrily to Executioner.)

You’ll pay for this!  God will NOT allow this to go unpunished!

EXECUTIONER

(Sarcastically.)

Yeah, right.  Your God, whoever he is, doesn’t pay any attention to us dirty humans.

RHODA

God pays attention to James!

EXECUTIONER

(Pointing to James’s body.)

Is THAT how God pays attention?  If your God is as caring as you say he is, then he must’ve been sleeping today.  Can’t you get it through your thick head?  I’m an executioner; I do my job. I don’t get attached to nobody, least of all the likes of him or you.

RHODA gets the sword and waves it for a moment, then throws it at EXECUTIONER’S feet. She will always speak to EXECUTIONER.

DISCIPLE TWO

Rhoda!

RHODA

You listen to me, you … Executioner!  He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.

(Throwing sword down.)

Do you know what it’s like to lose your father?  Do you?  Well, I lost two fathers– the first one sold me into slavery when I was too young to know him; and now I lost the best father in the whole world!  So you listen to me, Executioner.  You’ll die by THAT sword!  How would you like it if someone “just did his job” on that neck of yours?

EXECUTIONER

Honor?  Who said anything about that?  I don’t have any honor, and I don’t do this out of duty.  I’m my own boss.  Herod pays me good, so I do it for myself.

RHODA kneels down, and exposes the back of her neck.  EXECUTIONER stands there passively.

RHODA

Maybe I should go first, huh?  Why don’t you do your job now?  You get good money for it– go for it, you legalized murderer!

DISCIPLE ONE

She doesn’t mean it.

(He walks over and holds her.)

Rhoda, come on back home.  I know you’re angry–

RHODA

(Sobbing in a heap.)

You better pray that God has mercy on your soul, or that sword will be the end of you!

EXECUTIONER

(Uncomfortable.)

I’ve had enough of this display.  You think you can frighten me?  Religion!  Religion’s for the weak and wimpy, not me.  Now get out of here, or I’ll throw you in prison as a sympathizer of . . .  that . . .  father of yours!

EXECUTIONER begins to exit into prison.

DISCIPLE TWO

Rhoda, come on!  Mary’s orders!

RHODA

(Standing, unflinching and speaking to Executioner.)

It doesn’t matter–

EXECUTIONER

(Turning around and still very gruff.)

–What do you want from me?  I told you to get out of here!  Now beat it, or I’ll arrest you all!

EXECUTIONER turns to go into prison, but stops when Peter arrives.

ENTER: TWO GUARDS, leading PETER in chains. GUARDS wear Roman military outfits, a sword and dagger. PETER wears lower-class clothes.

(Rhoda to Peter.)

Peter!  This is terrible!

PETER breaks free calmly, not violently, from GUARDS’ hold and approaches James’ body. RHODA stands in a daze, staring.

PETER

(Fatherly to Rhoda.)

Hello, precious one.  Why are you so upset?

RHODA

(Tearfully and pointing.)

This is James!

PETER

May the Lord give you his peace.

(Kneeling.)

And you, James!  Dear, dear James! You were like a brother to me.

EXECUTIONER

(Aside, mockingly.)

This is like a family reunion!

PETER

(To James.)

I envy you, brother.  But . . . precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.  You’re home now.

EXECUTIONER

(Mocking Peter.)

Hey, you!  How do you like your friend? Dead guy, meet the ‘live guy.  ‘Live guy, meet the dead guy!

PETER

(Standing.)

We don’t fear you who can kill only the body; we fear only God who can destroy the body AND soul. . . .  James, my dear brother, I may follow you home unless the Lord sets me free.

EXECUTIONER

(Surprised in an aside.)

I don’t get it.  This guy is either crazy or just plain stupid.

(To Peter.)

Don’t you see his body?  Are you crazy?  I’M the one who did it, and I’ll do it to you, too.

PETER

If God wills, I’ll join him up there in glory– glory that is unspeakable– unless the Lord delivers me.

EXECUTIONER

(Looking up and mocking.)

Yeah, it’s pretty up there.  That glorious sun is really bright.  Maybe God will deliver you just like he “delivered” your friend.

GUARD ONE

Put him inside and chain him up.  We’ll wait for orders from the chief of the guard.

GUARD ONE stays outside, while GUARD TWO leads PETER in.

(To Rhoda and disciples.)

And you three get out of here, and take that body with you!  Now!

TWO DISCIPLES

Come on, Rhoda!  Now!

RHODA

You two get out of here.  I’ll see if I can talk with Peter.

DISCIPLE TWO

I give up!

EXIT:  TWO DISCIPLES and body of James.  They may go out the side or through the audience.

EXECUTIONER

Hey, watch this!

EXECUTIONER goes to prison door and stands just outside it.

(To Peter.)

Your “precious one” wants to speak to you.

RHODA approaches.

GUARD ONE

(To Executioner.)

Hey, would you forget him!

(Eyeing Rhoda again.)

Executioner, who’s this pretty young thing?  Holding back on us, you scum?

(To Rhoda.)

Come here, you. Let me give you a guided tour of the prison.

GUARD ONE grabs her; she struggles. GUARD ONE slaps her to the ground when she insults him.

RHODA

Let me go, you murderer!

EXECUTIONER

Let her go!

(To Rhoda.)

Get out of here!

GUARD ONE

(Slapping her to the ground.)

Murderer?  Did you hear that?  She’s a sassy little thing.  I could have you arrested for disrespect like that.

ENTER:  GUARD TWO.

GUARD TWO

What’s going on out here?

RHODA

May God strike you all down!  Go ahead and arrest me!  Life’s not worth living anymore.  I want to be the next martyr with my father! May God strike me down too!

PETER speaks from inside the prison, unseen and offstage.

PETER

Rhoda, hold your peace!

GUARD ONE

(To Executioner.)

What’s she talking about?

EXECUTIONER

(Without sympathy.)

Her father or something like that was just executed, and she’s all mad about it.

GUARD ONE

Hey, little missy, that’s what you get for joining that false religion.

RHODA

The only thing false around here are the accusations against James and Peter.  You don’t know what you’re dealing with– God is–

PETER

–Peace, Rhoda!  Let God handle this!  You go on back home and pray.  And tell the church to pray too.

RHODA

(To Peter.)

OK, I’m going now!

(To others, defiantly.)

You just remember what I said.

EXIT:  RHODA.

EXECUTIONER

(Sarcastically to Rhoda as she leaves.)

Oh, yeah!  I’ll be sure to do that!  I’ll pray that God has mercy on my soul.  “Oh, God!  Pay attention to me just like you did to these two!”

(To Rhoda again who is long gone.)

Oh, I’m so scared!  Ha!  Now STAY out of here!

(To Guards.)

These women sure get all worked up over a little bloodshed.

GUARD ONE

(To Executioner.)

I’ve got a good mind to turn you in.  You know you shouldn’t let families hang out around here. They’re Herod’s enemies.  What are you going to do– join them?

EXECUTIONER

(With false bravado.)

Ha!  Are you kidding me?  Of course not.  I was just getting more information out of her . . .  that I can bring to Herod . . .  you know . . .  to arrest them.  Hey, remember me?  I’m the executioner! I just chopped off the head of one of their leaders!

GUARD ONE

I don’t trust executioners.  You’re scum, all of you!

EXECUTIONER clowns around now that he’s with the GUARDS.

EXECUTIONER

(Teasingly.)

Wow!  How many executioners do you know, anyway?  Were you at our last Society meeting?  Society of Headloppers, local 301, Jerusalem.

GUARD ONE puts his hand on his sword hilt as if threatening EXECUTIONER.

GUARD TWO

Hey, break it up, you guys!  We’ve got bigger things to worry about. Did you hear that guy say some lord might set him free?

GUARD ONE

Yeah!  I wonder who that is . . . ?  Maybe someone in the King’s household.  I wonder what we should do about this . . . ?

GUARD TWO

I heard about him doing some miracles . . . you know, healing people and stuff–

EXECUTIONER

(Very sarcastic.)

Wow!  Do you think he can heal his dead friend?

EXECUTIONER pulls his index finger across his throat as if it were a knife.

GUARD TWO

(Ignoring Executioner.)

Well, I locked him in the cell and put a chain around the door, just in case.

ENTER:  GUARD THREE in a Roman outfit, wearing dagger and sword.  GUARDS ONE and TWO salute THREE with a “Hail Caesar” salute.  EXECUTIONER gives a half-hearted, “whatever” salute.

GUARDS ONE AND TWO

Hail, Caesar!

EXECUTIONER

Whatever.

GUARD THREE

Hail, Caesar!  Okay!  I’ve got orders from the chief that he wants four soldiers on this new prisoner.  Herod’s afraid his followers might try to spring him.  We’ll chain two men on him and put them in the cell.  Then we’ll have two more men outside his cell.  At night we’ll have four squads of four soldiers, one squad per shift.  The problem is, right now we’re one man short.  I’ll have to go to the barracks and get one.

EXECUTIONER

(Sarcastically.)

Hey, let me guard this one.  I’ll be glad to prove my loyalty.  Maybe I can get some information out of him too.

GUARD THREE

Would you shut up!  Executioners!  What a joke!  Wanna-be-soldiers!  You shouldn’t even be allowed to do your dirty work in our prison.

EXECUTIONER

(Still sarcastic.)

What better place than a prison to do my dirty work?  Have you seen your prison?

(Peering inside prison.)

It’s filthy!

(To Peter.)

How do you like this filth?  I want to be a guard someday, just like him!

(To Guard Three.)

Come on!  Let me guard him!  You can put me in the cell and chain me to him.  That way, you can keep an eye on me, IF you don’t trust me.

GUARD ONE

(To Guard Three.)

I saw him talking with a young woman and her two friends who knew the prisoner.  He says he was trying to get information out of her, but I don’t believe him.  We SHOULD chain him to the new prisoner, so we can kill him if there’s an escape.  Oh, I’d LOVE to!

EXECUTIONER

If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.  Come and get me, soldier boy!  I’d love to see you try!

As he speaks, EXECUTIONER keeps pulling his index finger across his throat, as if slicing it with a knife, and speaks derisively and with crazy-comical laughter.

GUARD ONE

Why you!

GUARD ONE pulls out his dagger and lunges at EXECUTIONER, and the other two GUARDS hold GUARD ONE back. EXECUTIONER reacts by grabbing his sword.

EXECUTIONER

(Getting sword and taunting.)

If you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword!  You’ll die by the sword!  Hey, look at me!  I’m one of their prophets!  You’ll die by THIS sword, soldier boy!

GUARD THREE

All right, that’s enough!

(To Executioner.)

Now you shut up!

(To Guard One who looks nervous.)

And you get a hold of yourself!  Relax!  We’ll just do what the chief said and not worry about it.   Hey!  Stop worrying about it!

GUARD ONE

(Calming down.)

Okay, you’re right . . . I’m just a little edgy.

EXECUTIONER

(Running finger across edge of sword.)

This thing is edgier.

GUARD THREE

All right, headlopper!  We’ll let you guard him so we can keep an eye on you, you piece of trash!  If we go down, you go down.

GUARDS THREE and TWO grab EXECUTIONER and begin dragging him into prison.

EXECUTIONER

Hey, wait a minute, I was just kidding!  That’s not my job!

GUARD THREE

If you can chop ’em, you can guard ’em.  Come on, it’s easy, we’ll show you!  Hey, we’ll chain you to him right now, since you love his lady friend.

GUARD ONE

Hey, that’s a great idea.  Now you can get more information out of him– as he preaches to you!  If you live by the mouth, you die by the mouth.

GUARD THREE

Now get inside!  And I’m warning you:  I’ll be keeping my eyes on you.

EXIT:  EVERYONE into prison.

 

CURTAIN.

Scene Two

THE CURTAIN RISES. We see a large, three-sided, rectangular room in Mary’s house. A tall wooden gate in a tall, walled fence is four or five feet away from the entrance into the room. A bench sits in the courtyard. The entrance, having a wooden door, should be placed on the shorter side wall, stage right. The walls of the room itself do not show stones because they are plastered over; the long back wall has a window in it and a large cross painted onto it, not hanging from it. (The three walls are necessary to show that Christians are persecuted and hiding.) A low table is next to the short wall, stage left because this is the front of the room. A bowl or two of fruit, simple utensils and loaves of bread sit on table; several jugs, plates and cups are scattered around room. Large pillows may surround the table or be underneath it. Plain chairs (or benches without backs) are set up in rows away from table for a prayer meeting.

LIGHTING shows that it is night outside the room. The room should not be brightly lit. Option: lighted oil lamps may hang onto walls. These may be electric (without cord showing) but still look like oil lamps.  The small courtyard should be very dim, but enough to see Peter when he knocks on the door later on.

AT RISE:  RHODA, MARY, SALOME, JOHN, MIRIAM, ANDREW, and THOMAS are milling around, cups in hand, chatting softly.

RHODA wears black; she is collecting scattered cups and plates shortly after MARY speaks; she should be solemn yet serving, when appropriate. When she is not serving, she is standing by the door.

SALOME and JOHN wear black for mourning; SALOME is sitting by herself still somewhat dazed.

ANDREW and THOMAS wear lower-class clothes.

MARY, who is elegantly dressed, good-naturedly calls everyone to attention. She stands at          the front of the room.

Everyone gradually sits down on benches or chairs, except for MIRIAM, who is dressed in lower-class clothes.

Each character who speaks should stand up unless otherwise noted.

MARY

Attention!  Brothers and sisters, may I have your attention, please!

(Group quiets down.)

Thank you.  We’re all tired, but we’ve got to press on in our prayers. I hope these all-night prayer meetings are doing some good in the heavenlies.

(To Rhoda)

Thank you, Rhoda, for picking up the cups and things– we’ve now reached a critical stage: It occurs to me again that in a few hours the last day of the Passover will end. Herod will probably try something against Peter.

OK . . .  now . . .  we’ve enjoyed our break, so we should get back to praying . . . .  So, how about it?  Let’s all get back to our seats and begin praying.

JOHN

Mary’s right.  We need to get praying again.  As I look back on these events in the past few weeks, with my brother James gone and Peter in prison, I sometimes ask myself if we haven’t been very complacent– the church has.  We’ve been stuck here in Jerusalem, preaching to the same people who have heard the same gospel. We were remiss not to pray for James when he was imprisoned. I perceive that the Lord will move us out of Jerusalem really soon. I’m so glad we’ve been praying for Peter this Passover, so we should continue.

MIRIAM

Mary?  John? . . .  Mary, may I pray first?

MARY

Of course, dear.

MIRIAM

Thank you.  Thank you, everyone.  Before I pray, I must confess that I’ve been quiet these last few days.  And I’m sure you’re wondering why I haven’t offered any public prayers on behalf of my own husband, but . . . well . . . I’ve been praying silently . . .  and I must admit I’ve been so anxious.  But what Mary said just then– you know– about these being critical days and all.  Well, it got to me.  I think she’s right.  And . . . I can’t keep quiet anymore.  I’d like to pray.  Peter’s been so good to me over the years . . . living with me in an understanding way . . . even on his mission trips he’s never failed to send me word of what’s happening and that he loves me–

(Begins to cry.)

Lord, I’m so frightened that something will happen to him–

MIRIAM can’t finish because of her tears. SALOME goes over to hold her and help her sit down.

MARY

Thank you, honey.  We’ll pray really hard that nothing will happen to him.

RHODA

May I say something, Mary?

MARY

Of course, Rhoda.  You too have been quiet these past few days.

RHODA

Yes, well . . .  I’ve been thinking, and . . . as she said . . .  I’ve been really quiet and haven’t been praying publicly for Peter as I should, though my prayers have been silent.  I respect and admire Peter, and wish him a soon release, but, you know, I have to confess that these last few days have been really hard on me.  I mean, my questions are stronger than my faith . . . I know I’m not as strong as you all are . . . I guess I just don’t understand why the Lord would let this happen . . . I shouldn’t ramble on like this–

MARY

–That’s quite all right–

JOHN

–Yes, it’s better to get things out in the open–

MARY

–John’s right.  Maybe the Lord wants us to get these things out in the open before we go on praying.  I mean, our prayers won’t count for much if we’re not of one heart and mind.  Please, do share more.

RHODA

Thank you . . . well, as I was saying . . . I pray the Lord delivers Peter, who has meant so much to me . . .  You all have been the family I never had . . . But I have so much confusion at what’s happening . . .  Oh, I feel like I’m rambling again, but . . . I’m jealous . . . I want to know how . . .  how . . . you can be so calm when James is dead and Peter’s in prison!  Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that.

MARY

That’s okay, Rhoda.

RHODA

Grandma Salome and Uncle John, you two seem so peaceful . . .  How do you do that?

SALOME

Rhoda, honey, we’re much older in the faith and in our years.  We spent time with Jesus.  We saw him die, but we saw him raised from the dead.  This life is not the end– it’s the beginning.  I mean, I’ve seen both my parents die, and Zebedee’s parents; a few years ago I buried Zebedee, and a few days ago we buried my oldest son, my first-born.  But I know they’re in a better place; they’re with their Lord.  I admit it has not been easy on me, not at all . . . Yet, I know– I FEEL– they wouldn’t wish to come back to this sin-sick, corrupt world now . . . even if the entire world were offered to them, just like Satan offered it to Jesus, but he chose to go on to glory, and now he has the entire world in his hands– in God’s timing and in God’s way..

RHODA

But . . . but . . . James was your oldest son; and you, Uncle John, he was your big brother–

(She becomes more emotional.)

–Oh, I believe that God has everything under control, but help me in my unbelief!  I feel like an orphan again– don’t take that in the wrong way; I mean, you’ve all been wonderful to me– all of you . . . I know I get emotional . . . you’ve all been the family I never had . . . Mary, I’m so glad you bought me and took me in . . . and gave me my freedom.  But you all grew up with a family; Grandma Salome and Uncle John, you all grew up in the country; you know what it’s like to have a father . . . a big family, you know, real flesh and blood . . . but I never had any of that . . . at least that I can remember (or care to remember).  Don’t you see?  James was my father, my adopted father, or he adopted me . . . The first real father I ever had . . . Oh, you know all of this anyway; I don’t know why I’m going on like this.

SALOME

We want you to, Rhoda, you’ve been so quiet– too quiet– for the past week.

RHODA

(Wistfully.)

Daddy used to say how similar we were, you know, our fiery tempers and our get-to-the-point attitude . . . He was a changed man, wasn’t he?  I mean, he said Jesus nicknamed him Son of Thunder, but I saw the change come over him as I got to know him these past few years . . .  I’m rambling again . . . He told me he changed after the Holy Spirit came, and I should give glory to God for his grace . . . any change in his life has been because of that . . . When I saw him lying there wrapped in that blanket, never coming back again, never calling me his precious little girl–

(She cries; Salome comforts her.)

SALOME

I know it hurts, sweetheart.  This whole ordeal has been painful and confusing . . . for all of us.

JOHN

What Rhoda said about the grace of God is so true; James gave glory to God for the change in his heart.  And don’t forget I was also called Son of Thunder.

(Wistfully.)

I was with James on that one.  The Samaritans rejected Jesus, and we asked him defiantly– I can hardly believe we did this, let alone admit to it– we asked if we could call down fire from heaven. But he rebuked us; can you believe it?  (I can now, but not at the time!)  I still remember that . . . that was our first lesson in not returning hatred for hatred or anger for anger. I thought to myself, who is this guy, anyway?  He’s got all this power, but he won’t use it when he should.  Well, looking back, I was wrong, as usual.

(Looking up to heaven.)

You did it, big brother!  The Lord got rid of all your thunder, and now you made it home before me– first-born and first home!

RHODA

James told me that story a few days before he died . . . .

(Realizing she got angry.)

He told me that story . . . I have something to confess.  Maybe that’s why I’ve been so quiet since James’ funeral.  When I stood there and watched him being laid to rest, I knew I was wrong to lose my temper.  I’m afraid I did fail Daddy.  You see, I got mad at that executioner– I wanted someone to pay for his death.  I lost my temper and asked God to rain down his fire.  I picked up the sword he used to execute him with, and pointed it at him.  Thank God I dropped it before I did anything too rash.  What I still don’t understand is, James was unjustly murdered– executed!  And for what?

SALOME

(Calmly and wistfully.)

James was my first-born son.  I carried him in my arms– the first child I ever bore.  And Zebedee was so proud on that day; so was the whole village, all his aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents.  I never felt closer to Zebedee than at that moment.  I never felt closer to God than at that moment.  When I held that little baby in my arms, I knew James was destined for some high mission in life!

RHODA

What high calling does all this serve?

JOHN

(Contemplatively, not preachy.)

I remember walking with Mary the mother of Jesus away from the cross.  Jesus said I was to take care of her, and I have– we have.  And I remember very clearly hearing Jesus forgive while he was on that cross.  Since that very moment I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about God’s love.  Why would Jesus forgive when he was unjustly crucified?  Why?  Who was he, anyway?  I racked my brains for days, and then the Spirit fell on us at Pentecost.  Only then I saw a glimmer of light.  In between my preaching I still pondered that question.

It has to do with God’s love.  He forgives even those who don’t care about God or his Son.  God loved us when we least deserved it, when we were imperfect and lost in our sins.  I can’t say I understand it all, but we’ve been called to live in it and walk in it.  We shouldn’t pray for justice; otherwise, we’ll get it– and I mean get it!  We should pray for God’s mercy to rain down on the just and unjust, and we’ve been made just only by his blood.  We’ve been called to preach the good news of his love.  And I for one want to learn this lesson now so that, who knows, maybe when I’m old and gray I’ll have a better understanding of it and can speak and write of God’s love from the heart.

Maybe what I– we, us– maybe what we’re going through this past week will serve as a testimony for future generations.  Maybe that’s James’ high mission . . . It’s a high calling to follow Jesus in his death, when it’s God’s will to do so.  THAT’S his testimony; THAT’S what will bless all the people of Jerusalem and Israel, even to the ends of the earth.

RHODA

(She cries.)

Future generations?  I’m hurting NOW, and I feel abandoned!  Left behind!  I don’t know if I’m ready to forgive!  I don’t have the strength– I could never forgive that executioner or that Herod!

JOHN

(He hugs Rhoda.)

I know you’re hurting over the loss of James, and so am I.  I don’t have a perfect understanding of this forgiveness thing; after Jesus death, this is our first big test– you know, up close and personal– and I want to take the first step in honor of James.  We haven’t abandoned you; I’m still here for you–

SALOME

It hasn’t been easy on me, and I’m not even sure I’ve gotten rid of all my hurt and anger–  I don’t have all the answers:  why my first-born son had to die . . . why a mother has to live longer than her children . . . I don’t have all the answers, but I know I cannot– no, I MUST not– hold onto any bitterness or anger against anyone, even Herod or that executioner.

JOHN

Mom’s right, Rhoda.  We have to forgive– I have to forgive; I mean, I’ve been praying along those lines myself:  if Jesus forgave, then we should too.  How can we do any differently?

RHODA

My faith is so weak compared to yours.  I wish I could forgive.  Oh, I feel so selfish!

JOHN

That’s all right.  You’re not selfish.  You and James were so close. And no one’s forcing you to forgive.  Just pray about it, and we’ll pray for you.  Pray for God’s grace, as I am for myself.

SALOME

And pray for me, too.

RHODA

(Hugging Salome.)

Oh, Grandma, I hope you didn’t take offense at my questions, but I was so jealous of your peace, and I wanted some of it.  I love you, Grandma.  Pray for me.

SALOME

I will.  I love you, too.

MARY

I think we could all use more of God’s peace during these confusing days we’re living in.  Thank you so much for opening your hearts . . . I learned a lot–

RHODA and SALOME sit down together. But eventually RHODA goes to stand by the door.

THOMAS, who remains seated, is sometimes monotone or matter-of-fact, and sometimes excitable.  The prayer is from Acts 4:24-30.

ANDREW

Mary, I would like to share a prayer with the group.

MARY

Please, feel free, Andrew.

ANDREW

Thank you. Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea . . . and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit . . . through the mouth of your servant . . . our father David:  “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain . . . ?  The kings of the earth . . . take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord . . . and against his Anointed One”. . .  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together–

CURTAIN.

Scene Three

CURTAIN RISES. Back to Prison. It is dark. Depending on the staging, this scene can take place simultaneously with the previous one and the next one at Mary’s house. Then a bright flash of light. ANGEL and PETER are heard from inside the prison.

ANGEL

Quick, get up!

PETER

(Groggily.)

What? What is this?

ANGEL

Put on your clothes and sandals. Wrap your cloak around you, and follow me!

PETER and ANGEL run out of the prison together, with ANGEL taking lead.

CURTAIN.

Scene Four

CURTAIN RISES. Back to MARY’S house, same lighting as in Scene Three.

 

THOMAS

Andrew, why did you stop?

ANDREW

Thomas, I want Rhoda to hear this prayer.

THOMAS

Oh, brother. She can live without hearing your Thespian reading.

 ANDREW

Rhoda was not here when we prayed this ten years ago when the Sanhedrin threatened us. I want her to hear it, for a history lesson.  Shh!  Rhoda is talking to someone!

ENTER:  PETER, knocking quietly on the gate. ANDREW is distracted. PETER keeps knocking and looking around nervously for fear authorities followed him.

RHODA, who had resumed her place at the door after she regained her composure, hears the knocking, but is not quite sure.

While the prayer is read, RHODA signals MARY that someone is knocking on the gate, and MARY signals RHODA to answer it.  At some point in the prayer, ANDREW stops to let RHODA answer the door.

LIGHTING:  When RHODA and PETER speak, you may turn up light on them.

RHODA

Who’s there?

PETER

Me!

RHODA

Me who?

PETER

I don’t want to say my name!

RHODA

Why not?

PETER

I can’t be sure someone wasn’t trailing me!

RHODA

Who would be trailing you if you’re supposed to be in jail?  You ARE supposed to be in jail, aren’t you?

PETER

Yes– I mean no!  Just let me in, and I’ll explain!

RHODA

How do I know you’re not the guard who arrested Peter who’s supposed to be in jail?

PETER

Rhoda, is that you?

RHODA

Yeah!

PETER

Come on, if I were the guard, how would I know your name?

RHODA

You got me there.  OK, if it is really is you, then what do you always call me.

PETER

Do I have to say it out in the street?

RHODA

Only if you want to come in off the street!

PETER

(Whispering.)

Oh, all right.  “Precious one.”

RHODA

What?

PETER

(Somewhat loudly.)

“Precious one!”

RHODA

It is you!

RHODA rushes back into the room without letting PETER in. Peter calls out and then continues knocking.

PETER

Rhoda?  Rhoda?  Hey, let me in!

The following exchange should happen rapidly and can even overlap. RHODA is choked with excitement, not shouting.

LIGHTING:  When RHODA rushes back into the room, the courtyard should remain as it is, when RHODA and PETER were conversing out there.

RHODA

Peter’s at the gate!

SEVERAL

What?

RHODA

Peter’s at the gate!  Peter’s at the gate!

THOMAS

You’re crazy!  Nutty!

MARY

Peter?  Come on, Rhoda, it may be his angel, but it is not Peter!

ANDREW

You interrupted my prayer and earthquake for that?

RHODA

(Irritated.)

And I thought you all had such strong faith!  If you don’t believe me, see for yourself, Thomas.

THOMAS

All right, I will; seeing is believing!

(Pausing.)

Hey, wait a minute!  What if it’s the authorities!

RHODA

I’m telling you it’s not!  I’d know his voice anywhere!

ANDREW

Let’s all look together.

THOMAS

Okay!

No one moves until MIRIAM moves first.

MIRIAM

Oh, I can’t stand the suspense any longer!  I’ll go!

Everyone crowds in at the gate. Their crowding to go through the door must be comical. MIRIAM opens the door, and PETER is revealed. MIRIAM jumps on him and hugs him. He affectionately twirls her around out on the street.

Oh, Peter, at last!

PETER

Hello, Miriam. love of my life!  I’ve missed you something terrible!

(Looking around.)

Shh!  Let’s get off the street before someone sees us!

They go back into the courtyard; everyone hugs PETER and shakes his hand; they say how good it is to see him; ANDREW and PETER are brothers, so they greet each other accordingly; PETER and MIRIAM go in first, holding each other; everyone else files in after; there is soft, joyous chatter in the room while ANDREW and THOMAS go in last because they exchange a few words in the courtyard. Eventually they shake hands and politely gesture to let the other go in first.  THOMAS lets ANDREW go in first since THOMAS was a little hard on ANDREW.

ANDREW

See, Thomas! I knew that prayer would work!  This is better than an earthquake!

THOMAS

Peter was let out of prison BEFORE you even began your leftover prayer!

ANDREW

O thou of little faith!

THOMAS

Where have I heard that before!  Anyway, I’m glad Peter’s come back safely . . .  And I’m sorry I was hard on you.

ANDREW

Ah, don’t mention it.  Maybe that prayer was a little outdated.  After you–

THOMAS

No, after you.

ANDREW

Thank you.  Your manners are improving!

THOMAS

Thanks, I think.

The muffled chatter continues while people get some refreshments.

PETER and RHODA hug each other inside the room, after ANDREW and THOMAS enter. MIRIAM holds onto PETER, but she can let go when appropriate.

RHODA

Oh, Peter, I’m so glad you’re back safe and sound!  I’m sorry I left you out on the street like that, but I was so excited that I forgot to unlock the gate!

PETER

No harm done. I understand.

MIRIAM

Actually, Rhoda, I probably would have done the same thing. Think nothing of it.

PETER

(To Rhoda.)

It’s so good to see you!

RHODA

Thanks!  I’ll let you two alone.

RHODA goes off to serve.

PETER

(To Miriam, hugging.)

And it’s especially good to see you!  Wow!  I can hardly believe I get to hug you!  I thought I was going to end up like James!

MIRIAM

(Tearfully.)

I’ve prayed so hard for this moment!  I thought I might have lost you!  I can hardly believe you’re here!  My prayers have been answered!

PETER

And I felt all of them!  I should tell the others what happened.

MIRIAM

Yes, please do.  I’m dying to know!

PETER motions to the others to become quiet, and they do quickly because they want to hear the report.

PETER

Everyone!  May I have everyone’s attention!  Thank you.  First of all, let me say how glad I am to see you all.  It’s good to be back!  And thank you for your prayers!  I felt everyone of them!

ANDREW

Did you feel my prayer, brother?

THOMAS

Andrew!

PETER

I’m sure I did.  Why do you ask?

ANDREW

Never mind.  Go ahead and tell us what happened!

MARY AND SOME OTHERS

Yes, what happened!

PETER

Well, just a short time ago, I felt a nudging on my side.  I woke up and saw a bright light in the cell:  it was an angel.  He told me to get up quickly, and, just like that, the chains fell off my wrist, no keys or struggle or anything.  I thought I was having a vision; I must have been pretty groggy because he gave me detailed commands.  (It’s good to know God is concerned about the little things.)  He told me to fasten my belt and put on my sandals.  Then he said for me to wrap my cloak around myself and follow him.  We passed by the first and second guard without being noticed and reached the iron gate leading into the city; as we got closer to it, I wondered how I was going through it (the angel didn’t have to worry about himself!), but it opened for us on its own, just like that, just like the chains!

(Looking back at door and in an aside.)

(Too bad this gate didn’t do that.)  God is in charge of everything, even man-made iron gates.  He opens doors that no man can shut, and closes doors that no man can open.

JOHN

Hmmm . . . I’ll have to remember that–

PETER

–That’s good, John, but why?

JOHN

Oh, I don’t know; it may come in handy later in life.  Anyway, go on!  What happened next?

PETER

Well, I got here, didn’t I?  And what a relief that is!  It’s so good to see all of you, and thanks again for your prayers.  The Lord delivered me from Herod and the people!

MIRIAM

Yes, thank you so much, everyone.  Your prayers sustained me as well.  Peter, you may not realize that the whole church throughout Jerusalem was praying night and day for you–

PETER

–Oh, yes I do.  I got word through one of the officials in the palace, who is a believer now.  I witnessed to him, and he got saved!

MARY

That’s wonderful!  Tell him to come here; we’d love to have him at our church.

ANDREW

Did the Lord tell you what we should do now?

PETER

Yes, my dear brother Andrew.

(They hug.)

Miriam and I should go throughout all the city to all the churches and tell them what happened.  That’s what I want all of you to do in a few minutes.  We’ve got to hurry because the authorities will be looking for me real soon.  Mary, you stay here with Salome and Rhoda.  John, Thomas and Andrew, you tell the others of this great miracle!

MIRIAM

What about me?

PETER

The Lord instructed me to leave the city–

MIRIAM

(Hugging Peter.)

–I’m going with you, husband!  There’s no way you’re leaving me!

PETER

(Smiling.)

Of course not!  You can come; I want you to!

(To others.)

I’m not sure exactly where he’s sending me, but it’s better you don’t know where I am until the persecution stops.  That way, if they question you, you can tell them you don’t know where I am.  You three men ready to go?

ANDREW, JOHN, THOMAS get their cloaks, without answering Peter.  While Peter and Salome talk, they gesture as if planning who will take which areas of the city. RHODA cleans up again; she may even leave to get more water. MARY watches.

PETER

Salome, may I have a word with you?

SALOME

(Approaching Peter.)

Of course.

PETER

(Hugging her.)

Oh, Salome, I’m so sorry about James–

SALOME

(Some tears.)

I’m so glad you’re back.  You have so much strength.  The Lord is giving me strength; it’s been hard, though.

 

PETER

Yes, I know, but I would have liked to have said my last good-byes; it wasn’t very pleasant to discover him outside the prison like that; there Rhoda was in tears–

SALOME

–Oh, I can imagine!  She walked me to the house and then ran back to the prison before I could say anything to stop her.  She’s been so quiet, a little too quiet.  She’s been hurting badly–

MIRIAM

Peter, maybe you can have a word with her.

PETER

Yes, my beloved. I plan to . . .  I have to admit I miss him so much

SALOME

Yeah, me too.

PETER

He was like a brother to me; and you’re like my second mother.  All those times we spent with Jesus– even before we met Jesus we were friends.  I really do miss him.

JOHN approaches to get word from Peter.

JOHN

We’re ready to go!

PETER

Great!  First, let me say how sorry I am about James–

JOHN

Yes, well, thanks.  It must be hard on you, too.

PETER

It is, it is.

(Hugging.)

I love you, little brother in Christ!  And be careful out there!

SALOME

Yes!  Be careful out there!  I don’t want to lose another son!

JOHN

The Lord will protect us, just as he did Peter!

(To Andrew and Thomas.)

You ready to go?

EXIT:  ANDREW, THOMAS and JOHN after everyone says good-bye and promises to pray for them and wishes them divine protection. .

SALOME

(To herself.)

Better than he protected James, I hope.

MARY

(Interrupting their departure.)

Wait!  Peter, may I take the church on the other side of the building?

PETER

I’m sure it’ll be all right–

JOHN

–That’s fine with us!  We’ll walk you there–

PETER

No, no!  Don’t do that!  Even a small crowd would get too much attention.  Go your separate ways right outside the gate.

SALOME

Mary, let me come too.  I could use the fresh air.

(She looks to Peter.)

PETER

Yes, that’s fine; I’m sure you’ll be safe.

JOHN, ANDREW, THOMAS, MARY, and SALOME now depart with more good-byes.

MIRIAM

Hey, I have an idea!  You and Rhoda need to talk, so why don’t you meet me at the church where Mary and Salome are going!

PETER

OK!  I won’t be too long.

MIRIAM

I’ll catch up with them!

EXIT:  MIRIAM after saying good-bye to Rhoda.

CURTAIN.

Scene Five

CURTAIN RISES. Prison, a few days later. RHODA knocks on the door, and the executioner opens it.

RHODA

I came here to apologize for my harsh words.

EXECUTIONER

(Gruffly.)

Uh … forget it kid! The prisoner’s gone. I don’t know what happened. The guards are in trouble.

RHODA

God worked a miracle to deliver Peter. He’s the leader of our band.

I’m a simple slave. Our Lord Jesus who was crucified not long ago forgave his executioners. James followed Jesus, who is now resurrected from the dead. Jesus forgives you right now for your sins.

EXECUTIONER

Forgiveness? I’m not worthy of it!

(Not as gruffly.)

Look . . .  OK . . .  you’re right, all right?  I made fun of him a lot . . .  and . . .  well . . .  he kept talking about God’s love.  I didn’t really get what he was saying, and I still don’t.  I was mocking him right up to when I chopped off his head.  You know, no big deal . . . .  just my job . . . .

(Pausing, softening a little.)

But, you know, he did a funny thing.  Just before I brought down the sword, he said . . . well . . . I was . . . as you said . . . forgiven.  I don’t get involved in politics, but I can’t believe a guilty man would do that, so he had to be innocent.  I can’t believe any man would do that, so how could God do that?

RHODA

It doesn’t matter what you’ve done.  James did forgive you. That’s courage!   James was no coward– and no weakling!  Didn’t it take courage to forgive when he was hated?  When he was unjustly killed? You don’t know it, but he is preaching at you right now. His death gets to your conscience, doesn’t it?

(Tearfully.)

I know it gets to mine.

EXECUTIONER

            (Recovering his gruffness.)

What!

RHODA

God was at work in James.  If thundering James could love and forgive you right up to the end, then God was at work in him.  Well, I need to go. It’s not safe. Just remember what James did!

(Aside.)

And I’ll try to do the same.

EXECUTIONER

Yeah, yeah, I’ll remember.

RHODA

(Beginning to leave.)

Good-bye for now.

CURTAIN

Copyright by

James Malcolm Arlandson

2017

 

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