This play about a well known and well used parable on forgiveness is yet another example of the complications we can find beneath what seem to be the most straightforward stories once we start looking more carefully at the text and putting ourselves in the places of its original audience. The lesson of the parable is clear, but the questions it raises multiply into the distance.
At this stage of the Wineskin Project, having written over 70 plays, I feel able to make a tentative generalization about the particular strain of difficulty to which this parable belongs. We think of Jesus as wise and enlightened, but some of his teachings are surprisingly, even shockingly primitive in their reasoning. He tells us not to seek the chief seats at feasts, for example, not for high-minded reasons of the soul, but because the direct pursuit of prestige could backfire, while a more restrained approach might gain us the high place we seek. Or he urges us to be persistent in prayer, but in order to drive home the point, paints a picture of a God who cares so little for our good that he has to be nagged.
In this play, he delivers the most principled, high-minded teaching on forgiveness that one can imagine – that we should forgive each other absolutely and without limit, even if someone sins continually against us – but then presents the most primitive imaginable reason for it: that if we don’t, God will not only punish us, but revoke his past forgiveness of our sins!
That’s been the story of these plays for the past year and a half. One day, Jesus speaks like the Son of God – if anything, so exalted we can never hope to live up to the idealistic purity of his teachings – but the next, sounds all too human. One parable is a wellspring of insight into human nature; the next just seems broken.
Who was he? What was he?
The questions multiply into the distance.