A curriculum for mixed-age elementary grades by Dan Harper
Copyright (c) 2015 Dan Harper
Scripts for the brief skits that can come at the beginning of each session.
* Please note that you do not have to memorize your lines for these scripts (who has time for that?). Just hold the script in your lap and read from it — the children won’t mind, they will still enjoy the skit.
1. Introducing Jesus
2. Oppressive Roman rule
4. What happened when Jesus went to Jerusalem
5. The Tax Collector decides to follow Jesus
First script: Introducing Jesus
Village Elder: Hey, have you heard about this new rabbi named Jesus? He comes from the town of Nazareth.
Shopkeeper: Are you talking about the Jesus who works for Joseph and Sons Building Company?
Village Elder: That’s the guy!
Shopkeeper: He’s not a rabbi, he’s a builder.
Village Elder: Don’t you remember that when he was getting ready for his bar mitzvah, his parents took him to the great Temple at Jerusalem? He amazed everyone there with his understanding of religion.
Shopkeeper: But that was ten years ago. Now he’s a carpenter.
Village Elder: No, he left his father’s business and is traveling the countryside, teaching about religion.
Shopkeeper: He left his father’s business? That’s crazy!
Village Elder: Why is it crazy? He was always honest and upright, a real mensch. We need more honest religious teachers.
Tax Collector: I hear he’s nice to Tax Collectors. I might go visit him.
Village Elder: But wait, there’s more — they say he can heal people of illness just by touching them.
Shopkeeper: If that’s true, that would be really amazing. My friend Jairus has a twelve-year-old daughter who’s very ill, maybe Jesus could heal her.
Village Elder: I won’t believe he can heal people until I see it with my own eyes. We’ll probably hear more about this Jesus guy in the next few weeks. But now it’s time to tell the apprentices which shopkeeper they get to spend time with this week.
Jesus as carpenter: Mark 6.3 says that Jesus is a carpenter. Actually, the Greek word is τέκτον — transliterated as tekton. This is a somewhat ambivalent term, by our standards — e.g., tektonon can be translated craftsmen or builders; tektoneo would be to do the work of joiners (referring to Liddell and Scott etc.) — which I’ve seen interpreted as everything from a joiner (in contemporary terms, a joiner is someone who makes things like furniture, cabinets, architectural woodwork, etc.), to a housewright (in contemporary terms, someone who builds houses, a contractor, who may work with wood, masonry, etc.), to a generic builder. So I’ve hedged my bets, and referred to Jesus and his father as builders. But I think there’s a really good case to be made that he was a joiner (furniture-maker, cabinetmaker).
Jesus as a boy at the Temple of Jerusalem: the story can be found in Luke 2.41-47.
Jesus as teacher, Jesus as faith healer: Scholars disagree about the primary role of the historical Jesus. Was he primarily a teacher (rabbi), a faith healer, a prophet of the end times, or what? Rather than take sides on an issue that I am not competent to make judgments on, I let the shopkeepers argue this one out.
However, it should be noted that while Jesus is often referred to as a “rabbi” by religious liberals, this should not be understood as a rabbi in one of today’s Jewish synagogues. Rabbis as we know them today are a product of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Think instead of the famous figure Hillel (c. 110 B.C.E.- c. 10 C.E.), whom we often term a rabbi. Hillel would have been alive while Jesus was a child. Hillel was a surprising and thought-provoking teacher, not unlike Jesus; see, for example, Hillel’s statement of the ethical norm called the “golden rule”:
“Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: ‘Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: ‘That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.'” — Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a.
Second script: Oppressive Roman rule
Shopkeeper: Oh, how I hate that Tax Collector! What a pain in the neck!
Village Elder: Shh! If he hears you complaining, he might tell the Romans that you are a troublemaker. You don’t want the Romans to think of you as a troublemaker, do you?
Shopkeeper: What do you mean?
Village Elder: Don’t you remember when Judah and his band of patriots broke into the Roman fortress on the hill? It was twenty years ago, but surely you must remember. The Roman army burned the entire town of Sepphoris, burned it to the ground in revenge! The Roman soldiers took away many of our people into captivity — not just the rebels, but anyone who happened to be in their way.
Shopkeeper: We never did find out what happened to some of them.
Village Elder: The Roman Soldier who guards our Tax Collector seems pretty nice, and I’m not worried about him. But what if a whole army of Roman soldiers came storming into our village? We’d be in trouble! So you better not complain where the Tax Collector can hear you!
Shopkeeper: I just wish there was someone who could save us from the Romans. A great warrior and king, like King David of olden times!
Village Elder [looking horrified]: Shh! Are you trying to get us into trouble?! Don’t say things like that aloud! Enough of this talk! It’s time for the apprentices to choose which shopkeeper they will go with today.
The bit about the Romans burning the village of Sepphoris is lifted from: Jesus the Carpenter’s Son by Sophia Fahs (Boston: Beacon Press, 1947).
Third script: Miracles?
Village Elder: Hey, remember how we were talking about that Jesus of Nazareth?
Shopkeeper: How could I forget? People are saying all kinds of things about him. Some people say he’s a rabbi, but others say he can’t even read. Some people say he’s specially chosen by God, but other people say he’s just a carpenter. Some people say he is standing up to the Romans, but other people say all he’s doing is angering the Romans and making things worse for everyone who lives in Judea.
Village Elder: Well, you know what else they’re saying about Jesus? They’re saying that he can perform miracles.
Shopkeeper: What do you mean, he can perform miracles?
Village Elder: Remember my friend Jairus? They guy with the twelve-year-old daughter who was really ill?
Shopkeeper: Sure, I remember Jairus. Nice guy. And yes, I heard that his daughter had been sick for a long time. In fact, I don’t like to say this, but some people said she was so sick she was probably going to die.
Village Elder: Well, what Jairus says is that he heard Jesus could make people better just by touching them. So he went to bring Jesus back to heal his daughter. But when they got to Jairus’s house, the girl had died. But Jesus walked in and said, hey, she’s not dead, and sure enough, the girl got up and walked around!
Shopkeeper [looking at the Elder skeptically]: Do you really believe that?
Village Elder: Well, that’s what my friend Jairus said. And Jairus is not the kind of guy who tells lies.
Shopkeeper: OK, I’m sure Jairus does NOT tell lies. But maybe his daughter wasn’t as sick as everyone thought. No one can make a dead person live again. Only God could do that. You’re not saying that Jesus is God, are you?
Village Elder: No way! No human being could be God. I know Jesus is just an human being. But still, I don’t think my friend Jairus would lie about this….
Shopkeeper: Well, I just don’t believe it. Let’s drop it, and let’s get these apprentices assigned to their shopkeepers for the day.
The story about Jairus appears in Mark 5:21–43, Matthew 9:18–26, and Luke 8:40–56.
Fourth script: What happened when Jesus went to Jerusalem
Village Elder: Did you hear what happened in Jerusalem during Passover?
Shopkeeper: No, what happened?
Village Elder: Well, you know that fellow from Nazareth, the one called Jesus? It seems that he and some of his followers decided to go to Jerusalem for Passover.
Shopkeeper: Some day, I would like to go to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and to see the great Temple. Jesus was lucky that he was able to go to Jerusalem.
Village Elder: Maybe you won’t think he was so lucky when you hear what happened to him. He went into Jerusalem, and there was this crowd of people, and they all waved palm fronds over him, just like what happened to new kings, back in the olden days when Jerusalem was ruled by us Jews.
Shopkeeper: Wait a minute. That must have made the Romans really angry.
Village Elder: You bet it did. Then Jesus went into the Temple, and he chased out the money-lenders, and argued with the Pharisees.
Shopkeeper: What?!! He must be crazy! If you do things like that, the Romans are sure to arrest you! They don’t like anyone to make trouble.
Village Elder: Well, not only did they arrest Jesus, they executed him the day after Passover.
Shopkeeper: Good for Jesus for standing up to those Romans! I mean, it’s terrible that they killed him, but SOMEONE has to tell them how bad….
Village Elder [interrupting the Shopkeeper]: Are you crazy?! It’s not good at all! This will only make the Romans behave worse than they did before! And you better watch out, if you say anything like that where the Romans could hear you, you might be the one they kill next!
This story presents an interpretation of Jesus as a kind of social justice activist. It draws on insights from a talk given at the UUA Gneeral Assembly in 2002 by Dr. Carole R. Fontaine of Andover Newton Theological School, “‘Strange Bed Fellows’?: Human Rights, Scripture(s) and the Seven Principles: Traditional Religions, Human Rights and the Internet: A Feminist Theological Perspective.” Here’s a relevant passage from this talk:
“At its inception, the Jesus-movement proclaimed the real arrival and presence of the ‘Kingdom of God,’ a ‘golden’ era marked by peace and justice in every aspect. The vision of such a kingdom was the people’s response to the ongoing political and economic oppression by Imperial Rome and the Jewish community’s struggle against Greek cultural domination. When Roman officials overseeing the province of Judea executed the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, as a political criminal, his life and death served as the central rallying point for his followers. When a large portion of the Jewish population failed to accept the claims of the early ‘Jesus movement,’ the message was then taken to Gentile (non-Jewish) populations. A new religion was born….”
Fifth script: The Tax Collector decides to follow Jesus
Village Elder: I can’t believe it, but people are still talking about that Jesus of Nazareth.
Shopkeeper: I know. I was sure everyone would have forgotten all about him after the Romans put him to death. Now some people are calling him the “radical rabble-rousing rabbi of Nazareth.” And other people are saying he was specially chosen by God. I’m not sure WHAT to think about Jesus.
Village Elder: I know what I do NOT think about Jesus. I know some people are saying that he is the son of God, but I do NOT believe that. And some people are saying that after the Romans killed him he rose from the dead, but I do NOT believe that either.
Tax Collector: Well, I think Jesus was the greatest religious teacher I have ever heard. I was so impressed by him that I am going to give up being a tax collector, and go join his followers, so we can make the world a better place.
Village Elder: What?! You’re going to give up being a Tax Collector? You’re going to go join the Jesus followers? Wow!
Tax Collector: Well, I can’t really become one of the Jesus followers, because you have to be Jewish. But even if I can’t really join the Jesus followers, at least I can hang out with them. Jesus is really important to em. He made me see that all people are equally important.
Village Elder: But Rabbi Hillel says exactly the same thing. Nothing that Jesus said was new or different.
Shopkeeper: That’s why I’m NOT going to go join his followers. I think he was probably a very special person, but he didn’t say anything NEW. And I’ll bet everyone will have forgotten about him five years from now.
Tax Collector: I won’t forget about him. Everyone else hated me because I was a Tax Collector. But Jesus treated me as a regular human being, even though I’m not even Jewish.
Village Elder: I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree about what we think about Jesus. Now it is time to talk about what we are going with all these apprentices….
The opinions expressed by characters are all at least a little bit anachronistic, and they really are designed to show what Unitarian Universalists today might think and believe about Jesus. At the same time, I did try to base the opinions in at least a little bit of historical fact.
The Village Elder: Having the Village Elder state that he does not believe that Jesus was the son of God, nor that he rose from the dead, seems like a reasonable representation of what many Jews of the time might have thought. Furthermore, current scholarly research indicates that there was a greater diversity of theological viewpoints even among the early followers of Jesus than has usually been assumed. Note that while the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark (which was the earliest of the gospels to be written) ends the story at Mark 16.8, when the women discover the empty tomb — no risen Christ, just an empty tomb — this should not imply that the author of Mark did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. It’s just that the author chose to end the story at that point, which makes for a powerful dramatic device, while all the foreshadowing earlier in the story implies that Jesus will indeed return to his followers. (Having acknowledged that, many of us Unitarian Universalists who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus prefer this original ending better than the ending in the other gospels.)
The Tax Collector: The Christian scriptures do report that Jesus consorted with tax collectors, and it would not be surprising if at least some of them became followers of Jesus — not in the inner circle (at least, not according to the Christian scriptures), but in the wider circle of followers. And the Tax Collector is correct, and the original Jesus movement was basically only open to Jews, or to people who converted to Judaism. Paul (a Roman citizen himself) changed that thirty years after Jesus died, when he preached that the movement was open to both Jew and Gentile. However, the earliest Jesus movement remained wholly Jewish.
The Shopkeeper: The Shopkeeper states the Golden Rule approximately as it appears in Matthew 7.12: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets”; or in Luke 6.31: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” [NRSV] However, compare Luke 10.25-28, in which Jesus approves of a version of the Golden Rule that includes the Shema, the Jewish declaration of Faith: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” [NRSV] (and this in turn is based on Deuteronomy 6.4). Of course, Matthew and Luke were written perhaps half a century after Jesus died, so we should not assume that these books accurately reproduce what Jesus actually said. For the sake of comparison, here’s Hillel’s version of the Golden Rule, as recorded in the Talmud, Shabbat 31a: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”