A dramatic monologue by Jim Hatherly
Isaac, chief steward in a Pharisee's house where Jesus is invited to dine, is disturbed by the lack of etiquette displayed by Jesus.
Luke 14: 1, 7-14
Isaac, chief steward in the house where Jesus was invited to dine. He should be played a bit over the top.
Etiquette. Now there is a lovely word for you. An elegant word. It is used in society circles to describe how things ought to be done in certain social settings. I suppose the poor have their own etiquette, too. Though I have never had the opportunity to actually speak to any of those unfortunates.
My life consists of etiquette. A place for everyone and everyone in their place. I am practiced at it. My name is Isaac, and I serve as chief steward in the house of my master and lady. My master is a leader of the Pharisees, you see. A very important man. A very powerful man. And my lady, yes, she lives up to her name. Very refined.
My life is my work, and I am very good at it. This is a privileged home. My master and lady are, shall we say, very well connected. All the other Pharisees come here. The Scribes from time to time. Even the Romans. Not the common ones, the street vendors and the beggars, never a person without rank, my goodness no. A Centurion now and again. A high-ranking civic official. We have entertained them all. In fine style. Befitting their status, of course.
We vary the menu, depending on who is coming over. My lady and I will have this lovely conversation. She will say, "Isaac, guess who is coming to dinner?" And I must guess. Oh, I say, it is really the most delightful little game we play.
This one day, my lady and I were playing "Guess who's coming to dinner" and I was absolutely stumped. I had gone through the whole guest list from last year, and the list of people I knew they really wanted to invite, but hadn't yet. And, confound it if I didn't run out of names. Silly me, I thought, Isaac, you're losing your touch.
So my lady finally told me. She said the master had invited a certain Jesus from Nazareth to dinner.
Now he had never been on guest list before. Certainly not. While procuring the food for the family I had overheard people in the market talk about him. I kept hearing his name every time I went. Those contemptible commoners. They thought he was some kind of preacher. Prophet. Liberator. Messiah. Imagine!
And on a couple of occasions when my master had other Pharisees over for dinner, his name had come up. And when it did, my goodness, you should have heard the commotion. The man wasn't even in the room, and they were positively screaming about him. And not in a nice way, I might add.
A carpenter of all things. Coming to this fine home. From Nazareth of all places. Dreadful little town.
I didn't know what to expect. Sawdust, I suppose. Isn't that silly of me. But wasn't I in for a surprise! The man was very clean. Neat. Certainly not overdressed. Goodness me, no. But almost suitable for the occasion. He spoke very politely to me at the door, asked me my name and told me his. He was not exactly elegant, but he had a certain - comportment. Yes, that is the word. He looked like a man who knew who he was, who carried himself with confidence.
I couldn't say exactly why my master had invited him. The man certainly had no social status that the master could benefit from. As the bunch of them sat around in the lounge I could see small groups of the other Pharisees glancing over at Jesus, whispering among themselves, gesturing with their hands.
When it came time for dinner, I invited them to the table. Now you must understand that etiquette comes into play here. Very important. Etiquette is not just how you hold your fork, my dear. Etiquette is everything that a social occasion requires. And when you have all these powerful and important people for dinner, why there are certain rules.
It is just like at the synagogue. The chief priest sits here, and the leader of the Saducees over there, and my master over there. And on down the line. A place for everyone and everyone in their place. The commoners? Yes, they come to the synagogue, too. Scores of them. Pathetic. Almost a sacrilege. In their dusty clothes, barefoot some of them. Some from the market. Some from the streets. They jostle around in the back, polite but a bit noisy.
Every now and again, I could hear them talking about their lot in life. They talked about their anger towards the Pharisees, and even their dislike for my master. Called them a bunch of hypocrites. They did not think it right that in God's house some should be privileged and some not. They were angry that some were rich and some were poor.
Between you and me, I think they are jealous. They just don't understand how the world works. But, in the end, they sat where they were supposed to be. Everyone in their place. I am certain that God intended it that way. And so, the same is true at our home. Everyone in their place.
But I digress from my story. I invited them to the table. They all knew their places, of course. And all sat according to their status and privilege. In hindsight, I suppose I should have set a special place for Jesus. It might have avoided the unfortunate outburst that occurred.
They were just nicely into their dinner, when he spoke to the whole room. You know how preachers go on when they have an audience.
In a nutshell, this is what he said. "When you are invited to a banquet, don't go elbowing your way into the seat of honor. After all, the host may have someone else in mind and you will be left eating in the kitchen. Instead, take the lowest place and the host may actually offer you a better one. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
I suppose that is the kind of etiquette they learn in Nazareth. Can you imagine being a steward in a house like that? With everyone going to the wrong places. Such a commotion there would be! The guests started looking at each other, furrowing their brows. I think they must have wondered if they had just been insulted, but it was so subtle they were silenced.
Then he spoke again. This time he addressed the Master. "When you give a feast, do not invite your friends or your fellow Pharisees or your relatives or your rich neighbors." I thought, by gosh, those are the only people the master invites to dinner. Who could possibly be left?
He continued. "If you invite those people, they may invite you in return and you will be repaid." Honestly, I couldn't understand where he was going with this.
Finally, he finished with this little speech. "When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you."
The master turned red in the face. The other Pharisees talked all at once. They were positively scowling at Jesus. I think there was more than a breach of etiquette going on here.
Jesus had just turned all the social conventions upside down. I could see why the commoners would be attracted to this man. He was saying that they were equal to those who held positions of privilege. Such a notion! And I could certainly understand why the master and his friends were outraged.
I think this man is going to get himself into serious trouble one of these days. Don't you?
But what if he is right? I dare not think it, but I do wonder. What if our etiquette has been wrong all this time? What if everyone is truly equal in the eyes of God, and we have been the ones to turn it upside down? What if the poor, the commoners, the ones who wait at the back, who never get invited to fine banquets and must scratch their living out of nothing are the ones to whom God wants to give special privileges?
O my goodness. What a world that would be! Sorry, I must go now. My lady just fainted.
Copyright, Jim Hatherly, all rights reserved.
This play is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license. Some rights are reserved. For the full license visit visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/ca/. A donation of equivalent to $10.00 Cdn. to the United Church of Canada Mission and Service Fund for use of this work is suggested. Please visit www.united-church.ca/msfund