A Rock And A Hard Place
By Michael English
Summary: Pontius Pilate washed his hands of Jesus. When the pressure is on, we also sometimes wash our hands of our responsibilities. This is a short play in three scenes not a simple sketch. It explores the relationship of Pilate and the Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas. We used this as part of a Good Friday 2004 service and made a video. It needs to be well acted, particularly the part of Pontius Pilate some of the lines can produce laughs if done badly this must not be allowed to happen.
Bible Reference: John 18:28-19:16
Characters: Elder Pilate, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, Roman Guards (non-speaking), Slave Girls (non-speaking).
Props: Glass, alka-seltzer, scroll, water jug, bowl and towel.
Setting: The Governors Palace and Forum in Jerusalem around 30 AD.
SCENE I Pilates Antechamber
(The curtain opens to reveal Pilate sitting despondently in an expensive chair set in the middle ground of the stage. In front of Pilate is a low table with a glass of water and a couple of Alka-Seltzer. Pilate is delicately massaging his temples. The Elder Pilate stands at the front of the stage. He harangues the audience contemptuously.)
Elder Pilate: It was many years ago now when I condemned Jesus Christ to death. And I expect you think it was all my fault. I was the Roman Governor. I was in charge. I was responsible. Well, maybe I was responsible; maybe it was my fault.
But what right have you got to judge me? Could you have done any better? Would you have done anything different in my place, hmm? Have you any idea what it was like?
No, I expect you havent. Let me tell you: the ruling Jews, the Sanhedrin, put me under a lot of pressure; whining one minute, threatening the next. It was enough to drive a man crazy.
And Id had a bad night&.
(The Elder Pilate moves over to the side of the stage, where he listens for a while. The memories are painful. When he has seen enough, he departs)
Pilate: Oh, my head. What a night. Not a wink of sleep. (He drops the Alka-Seltzer in the glass the audience should be able to see the fizz). One of my wifes dreams again; tossing and turning; kept me awake all night.
(From off stage we hear the sound of banging on a door.)
Pilate: Go away. Theres no-one here. Come back after the festival.
(We hear more banging. Pilate swigs at the water)
Pilate: Or better still, dont come back at all.
Caiaphas: (voice off) Let me in. I must see the Procurator at once.
Pilate: Oh no. Let him in. Lets get it over with.
(Caiaphas enters. He too is looking the worse for wear)
Pilate: (He loathes Caiaphas) My Lord Caiaphas. How splendid to see you. And so early. Couldnt it wait?
Caiaphas (Pilate is a heathen foreigner beneath his contempt) There is a matter of most immediate import that we need to discuss.
Pilate: But, my lord, you look terrible. Been up all night have we? No, of course, you couldnt have been. Dont the Sanhedrin have a law prohibiting night meetings? Isnt it supposed to stop pernicious scheming?
But what am I saying wheres my manners. Take a seat. Have some breakfast.
(Caiaphas is so enraged that hes speechless)
Pilate: Oh, Im sorry. I forgot you cant eat my food. Well, what is it then? An earthquake? A fire? Is the king about to die?
Caiaphas: We have apprehended a criminal. A very dangerous criminal.
Pilate: By dangerous, I suppose you mean someone who threatens your position?
Caiaphas: And yours. Do not take this lightly.
Pilate: So what do you want me to do?
Caiaphas: This criminal must be put to death and regrettably we cannot do that. We must leave that to you. You will try him of course. Justice must be seen to be done. And it must be done at once. I will return with the prisoner in one hour. Be ready.
Pilate: Well see about that. Ive a little surprise for you Caiaphas my friend. (He brings out a scroll from his toga and taps it mysteriously)
(The Great Hall in the Procurators palace. The whole room is designed to impress and to show very definitely who is in control the Romans. Pilate is sitting on a massive throne on one side of the stage. He is looking very uncomfortable. Two [non-speaking] guards stand on each side of the throne.)
Pilate: (He still isnt feeling well). At last. You, (indicating the two guards) help my Lord Caiaphas with his dangerous prisoner. We do not want an incident.
(The two guards march off and lead in the prisoner Jesus, who is naked from the waist up. The guards jostle him as they fasten his hands to the post. Then they return to their original positions. Caiaphas enters behind the guards.)
Caiaphas: Your Excellency, here is the prisoner: Jesus Of Nazareth.
Pilate: So this is Jesus of Nazareth.
(Pilate gets up and inspects Jesus)
Pilate: Somehow I was expecting someone& taller. (To Caiaphas). Is it true that he can do miracles?
Caiaphas: So the common people say.
Pilate: But do you really think he can? Could he cure my headache?
Caiaphas: The common people say many things; much of it is nonsense.
Pilate: So you dont believe he can do miracles then?
Caiaphas: Doubtless he is an accomplished trickster. Perhaps he can manufacture the illusion of miracles. Perhaps he cured a few old women who would have become better anyway. None of the Sanhedrin have been taken in.
(Pilate goes back to his throne.)
Pilate: Oh, thats not what my spies tell me.
Caiaphas: Then your spies are& misinformed.
Pilate: As you wish. (beat). Well what has he done?
Caiaphas: We have tried him ourselves. He is guilty. We would not have brought him to you if he had not committed a crime.
Pilate: Good. You tried him, you sentence him. I have better things to do than dispense justice.
Caiaphas: (Holds up a hand) But we cannot administer the death penalty.
(Pilate gets up so he can wag a finger in Caiaphass face).
Pilate: I am in no mood to be mocked in this fashion. Understand this: I am not going to rubber stamp a decision made in the middle of the night by some barbarian court. You want Roman Justice? Then Roman Justice is what you are going to get.
(Pilate returns to his throne)
Pilate: What are the accusations against Jesus of Nazareth.
Caiaphas: This man, Jesus, is guilty of treason and sedition of the worst kind. He fills the minds of the common people with nonsense that interferes with good government and the maintenance of order. He claims he is the Anointed One.
Pilate: So hes a Messiah is he? Now that is seditious; isnt the Messiah a sort of king?
(Pilate looks at Caiaphas for an answer, but none is forthcoming. Pilate gets up to question Jesus again.)
Pilate: Tell me: are you a king? Are you the king of the Jews?
Jesus: The words are yours.
(Pilate returns to his throne)
Pilate: Is there anything more?
Caiaphas: There is. I placed this man on oath in the name of the Living God and asked him who he was?
Pilate: And his reply?
Caiaphas: Was blasphemous, I will not repeat his words. He claims to be God.
Pilate: Our poets speak of the gods walking among us, but I did not think you Jews went in for that sort of thing.
Caiaphas: We do not. We repudiate it. And it is not the same. (Beat) You are a civilised and noble Roman of considerable intelligence; surely you can see this man is dangerous? He must be put to death at once.
(Pilate gets up to question Jesus again)
Pilate: Tell me, is this true, are you the Messiah. Are you God in human form?
Jesus: What do you think?
Pilate: (Angrily) Do you think I am a Jew. What do I know of such things? What do I care? It was your own people who placed you in my power. What have you really done?
Jesus: My kingdom does not belong to this world; if it did my followers would be fighting to free me. No, my kingdom does not belong here?
Pilate: So you admit it. You do claim to be a king!
Jesus: It is each one of you who make me a king. I was born and came into the world for one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.
(During this speech the Elder Pilate enters and stands at the front of the stage.)
Pilate: Yes, and what is truth?
(Pilate returns to his throne. He is deep in thought.)
Elder Pilate: I remember it well; forced to argue philosophy with an itinerant miracle preacher from the provinces; an oily priest whispering flattery in one ear and threats in the other. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. And, you know, I thought I was still in control.
(The Elder Pilate moves to the side of the stage)
(Pilate brings out the scroll and regards it thoughfully)
Pilate: (To Caiaphas) I will show you Roman justice. (To the court) I will give my decision at noon, but not here. I will speak to all the people in the Forum. All Jerusalem must hear my decision. I will make an example of this Jesus of Nazareth!
(Pilate indicates to the guards they should take Jesus away. They do so very roughly, making it clear Jesus is in for a hard time at their hands.)
(A large open square with a seat in the centre. We hear a fanfare of trumpets. Pilate marches in with Caiphas following. Pilate sits, but Caiaphas remains standing. Pilate beckons to the guards offstage. The guards march on with Jesus between them. They are none too gentle with the prisoner who is wearing a purple cloak and a crown of thorns, and whose face is smeared with blood. They come to a halt on one side of the stage.)
Pilate: Behold the man!
Caiaphas: (To the audience) This man is a blasphemer. He is preaching rebellion against God and should be crucified. I say crucify him!
(Pilate holds up his hand for silence)
Pilate: Lord Caiaphas, you forget yourself. My word is law here, not yours. (beat) And I find this man has done nothing to deserve death. (To the guards) Give him a flogging and let him go!
Caiaphas: Wait! We have a law that says this man must die because he has claimed to be God. And die he will even if we have to crucify him ourselves. When justice fails you let loose the mob!
Pilate: And is this a god? He bruises, he bleeds. What sort of a god is that? (To Jesus) And you - tell me, tell them: are you God?
(Jesus doesnt answer.)
Pilate: Why wont you speak? Your fate is in my hands. I can set you free or I can have you executed.
Jesus: You have authority over me only because God has given it to you.
Caiaphas: (Shouting and trying to get the audience to join in.) Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!
Pilate: (Holds up his hand again for silence). I have heard that the Emperor takes a dim view of civil disobedience. Perhaps this man is guilty after all.
Caiaphas: Good. I knew you would see sense.
Pilate: (To Caiaphas) And, if I condemn him to death there will be no civil disobedience.
Caiaphas: I give you my word.
Pilate: Swear it!
Caiaphas: I swear.
Pilate: So be it. Jesus of Nazareth, by the power invested in me, and in the name of the Emperor Tiberius Caesar, I condemn you to death by crucifixion.
(The guards begin to move Jesus off stage)
(The guards stop in their tracks. Pilate rises to his feet.)
Pilate: Good people of Jerusalem, today is your Passover festival. Your rites are strange to us Romans, but we pride ourselves on our fairness and on our mercy. It has long been our tradition that we bestow a free pardon on one prisoner each year to mark this festival. I have the pardon here in my hand. (He raises the scroll above his head for the people to see.) This year the beneficiary will be your king, Jesus of Nazareth. ( to Caiaphas) And remember, Caiaphas, you gave your word. (Pilate sits).
Caiaphas: Not him, Barabbas. Give us Barabbas! (Working the crowd) Barabbas! Barabbas! Barrabas!
Pilate: But Barabbas is nothing but a common thief and a murderer. You would rather this Jesus took his place? No. I will pardon Jesus. Barabbas will die.
Caiaphas: So you would pardon a rebel would you? You would pardon a man who claims to be a king! Anyone who claims to be king is a rebel against the Emperor. Anyone pardoning a rebel joins him in rebellion. Procurator Pilate, would you rebel against Caesar. For Caesar will surely hear of it. (Beat) (Caiaphas points at Jesus) Crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!
(Pilate is really rattled)
Pilate: I am a friend of Caesar. He has no friend more loyal than I.
Caiaphas: And what will Caesar think of a friend who frees rebels?
Pilate: Do you really want me to crucify your king?
Caiaphas: The only king we have is the Emperor! (beat) Crucify him! Crucify him!
Pilate: Enough! You force my hand, and I will not forget it, nor forgive. Give this to Barabbas.
(Pilate hands the scroll to Caiaphas)
Pilate: Tell him, Someone is dying in his place. (Beat) But this is none of my doing. (To slaves offstage) Bring water, bring towels& quickly.
(Two slaves hurry in carrying a low table. The table has a bowl of water and a towel. The two slaves stand to attention, one on the left of the table, the other on the right. One slave holds the towel)
(Pilate holds his hands up for the audience to see)
Pilate: I wash my hands in the presence of all these witnesses.
(He puts his hands in the water and begins to wash them. The Elder Pilate wanders in and watches Pilates actions intently)
Pilate: (To the audience) By this you acknowledge that I am not responsible for the death of this innocent man.
(Pilate removes his hands from the bowl and holds them out. The slave with the towel dries them.)
Caiaphas: (Contemptuously) May his blood fall on us and on our children!
Pilate: (To the guards) Take the prisoner away& and crucify him.
(The guards lead Jesus away)
Elder Pilate: But all the water in the world could not wash away my guilt&
(Pilate holds up his hands again, looks at them with horror, plunges them back into the water and scrubs vigorously. This should be repeated as often as required)
Elder Pilate: &Something much stronger was required.
This script is Copyright 2004 Michael English, All Saints Milton. Permission is given to use this drama in non-profit making church events provided the source is acknowledged. Some editing may be required to suit local conditions. Please let us know if you have any comments.