Summary: A re-enactment of the letter to Philemon, written by the apostle Paul.
Style: Dramatic (with light touches). Duration: 12min
Actors: 1N, 3M (+ audience volunteers)
Key words: reconciliation, forgiveness, philemon, onesimus, paul, letter writing, prison, slave
Narrator, with Bible
Paul, (grumpy) in shorts and scruffy clothes has chains around his ankles, clipboard with script and feather for quill.
Onesimus, (keen and energetic) dressed as a slave with bag of money
PLANT (IN AUDIENCE - will need that page of script)
TIMOTHY, APPHIA, ARCHIPPUS, EPAPHRAS, ARISTARCHUS, DEMAS, LUKE, MARK (members of congregation - don’t need to rehearse)
Props: signs on cards, Rome and Colosse, rucksack, money bag/box, a chair.
Big signs on stage - R “Colosse”, L “Rome”, lectern centre stage ]
NARRATOR: (goes to lectern) Before I do the reading, I need 8 volunteers. - you don’t have to do much except stand up. Hands up ..
(As people volunteer, Narrator gives them papers with names saying their names)
I need 2 from this side (stage R) -(indicates R audience) You all are in Colosse: APPHIA (a woman) and ARCHIPPUS
And 6 from this side (Stage L) (indicates L audience)You all are in Rome: TIMOTHY, EPAPHRAS, ARISTARCHUS, MARK, DEMAS, LUKE
Let’s just have a practise. Everyone I’ve just given a piece of paper, stand up! And you here on the right are the church in Colosse! Excellent. OK, you can sit down.
So, to our passage…(opens Bible) Well done if you manage to find this little letter from Paul to Philemon, inserted between Titus and Hebrews. Page … (insert church bible page if appropriate). It was written around AD 59 or AD 61 ..(clears his throat) The context of the reading today is ...
PHILEMON (enters stage R running and looking about- calling for his slave) Onesimus! Onesimus where are you? (Exits R)
ONESIMUS (enters from L with a money bag/box in view, goes to centre stage, looking around him furtively, sees the audience, puts his finger to his lips - To audience:) Shh! Don’t tell will you? I don’t want my boss to see me. You see, I’ve got fed up with being a slave - although he… I mean Philemon - I’m sure you’ve heard of him .. no one ever knows how to pronounce his name though - it’s (fill ee mun) anyway, He’s a great master - he treats me well, I know he’ll miss me, but I don’t want to be a slave anymore. I have nothing of my own, I have no freedom. I want to escape and see Rome - I’ve heard it’s amazing. (looks at audience/money/audience) You’re looking at this aren’t you (shows money) I need it for the journey. For food. It’s risky stealing I know- the penalty is (indicates cutting self at neck - death) , but I’m taking that risk. I hope he’ll forgive me. Pray I don’t get caught will you?.
PHILEMON: (enters again calling into audience) Onesimus! Onesimus come here! Where is he? (to audience) Have you seen my slave?
ONESIMUS: (finger to lips, to audience whispers:) I must go. Don’t give me away! (backs off towards L stage)
PHILEMON: (to audience, still looking for him) He’s not the best slave I’ve had. It’s ironic really. His name- Onesimus, means useful! He’s actually pretty useless, but I do love him - he’s like a son to me. Onesimus! I’m getting worried now, where has he got to?
(ONESIMUS Waves to the audience (PLANT waves back) as he exits L)
PHILEMON: (sees PLANT waving, to audience) Who are you waving at? Did you see my slave?
PLANT: (stands up) Yes - he went that way (points) I think he is running away to Rome.
PHILEMON Oh no!
PLANT : He took some of your money, too.
PHILEMON: (looks distraught) Oh silly boy! I can’t chase him - he is too fast for me. Oh Onesimus…why? (genuinely upset exits R)
NARRATOR: Um, well….that is the background of this reading. So now let’s listen to the words of the apostle Paul… (PAUL Enters slowly with clipboard, paper and pen NARRATOR doesn’t see Paul). He is in Rome in prison - in chains for spreading the good news. (He sees Paul and is amazed. Goes to shake his hands ) - You got out of prison ! (Paul indicates his chains)
NARRATOR: Oh sorry. Well, Paul, Wow! what a surprise, The author himself. welcome! Let me introduce you to….
PAUL (to audience, slightly grumpy) I think they already know who I am. Or they should do! Apparently I am a prolific letter writer - but when you are stuck in prison, there’s not much else you can do...
NARRATOR (interrupts) Hhmm. Except convert the guards, teach your fellow Christians, pray, sing songs.…
PAUL: (annoyed at narrator) Anyway, I need to write this letter. It’s got to be short because I am writing it myself ...I usually dictate to my secretary but this is a personal plea.
NARRATOR: Um, excuse me, before you start, do you mind telling us why are you writing this letter?
PAUL:. If I must. I want to reunite Philemon and Onesimus. They are both brothers in Christ. I want to see forgiveness, not punishment. So here goes (pen poised to NARRATOR) - I’ll read it out as I write it down…. (takes a breath)
NARRATOR: Um, sorry to interrupt.
PAUL: Now what!
NARRATOR: I’m not sure that’s gonna work. These people have Sunday lunch to get back to. And anyway, I was going to read it to them, would you mind....
PAUL Oh alright then... you read it - you’ve got it there have you? The final version?
NARRATOR: Er… Yes, yes I have
PAUL I think I need to sit down to write this. Anyone got a chair?
ONESIMUS (Enters with chair, as he carries it he wanders around the stage:. To audience:) Hiya! Nice to see all - still here then! I managed to get away to Rome. But I found so much more than what I was looking for. This man Paul - led me to the Lord Jesus, I’m a believer, - I have eternal life. Now, I am really free. And I have so many brothers… and sisters...and…
PAUL (firmly) Onesimus, do you mind? The chair, here! I need to get on (Onesimus puts chair down stage L) - thank you.
ONESIMUS: You’re welcome. Sorry (Smiles at audience and exits stage L giving a little wave. Paul sits and “writes” with quill between actions, Onesimus stays close and listens intently)
NARRATOR: Are you all sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin (Paul writes as Narrator reads) From Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother..
PAUL: (loudly) where are you Timothy? stand up (waits for TIMOTHY to stand). This letter is from you, too.
NARRATOR: (READING) To Philemon, our dear friend and fellow worker (PHILEMON enters and stands stage R looking across stage - Paul looks towards him from time to time as he writes - no eye contact) also to Apphia our sister (Apphia please stand) and Archippus our fellow soldier (stand) and to the church that meets in your home - that’s you lot (indicates audience R) - the church at Colossae. This letter is from Paul and Timothy to all of you. OK you can sit down now, thanks. (READING) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers..
(PAUL acts out the sentiments as NARRATOR reads) ...because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.
(PAUL smiles and sighs happily) Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold...
(PAUL stands, raises first finger to indicate ordering someone) ...and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.
(PAUL’s face changes to loving, sits slowly and holds back in pain) It is as none other than Paul – an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus...
(to audience) Did you notice his chains? Around his ankles. Why keep an old man chained up - as if he can run off!
PAUL: (to narrator) Oy! Do you mind, just keep going!
NARRATOR: Sorry... (READING) I appeal to you for my son Onesimus... (PAUL looks at him affectionately) who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, (ONESIMUS grimaces) but now he has become useful both to you and to me. (ONESEMIS smiles) I am sending him – who is my very heart (PAUL grabs ONESIMUS’ hand and puts it to his own chest) – back to you (looks over to Philemon). I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favour you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. …(Pause)
PAUL: (to ONESIMUS) You’d better get packed, son.
(ONESIMUS exits to get rucksack)
NARRATOR: (READING) ...Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while, was that you might have him back forever – no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother…. (ONESIMUS, rucksack on back, enters looking sad. PAUL puts his arm around him ) He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
PAUL: Help me up will you (ONESIMUS helps PAUL to stand. To NARRATOR) I’d like to read the end bit myself..
NARRATOR: Oh of course - it’s your letter after all.
PAUL (writing avidly, speaking passionately) So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. (shakes his wrist as if has writer’s cramp, then writes) I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back – not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; (LONG PAUSE, tired, sad ) ... refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. (Paul sighs. Looks up - To audience: ) I long to be away from here - out of prison -to see my brothers and sisters back in Colossae, to see Philemon myself and get this sorted personally. But I can’t - it has to be done this way. (looks down at letter and continues to write) (READING) And one thing more: prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers…..
NARRATOR (interrupts - to audience) This is the final part of the letter - get ready those with the names.
PAUL ( walks to front L of stage looking for his friends) Epaphras...
NARRATOR: Stand up, Epaphras.
PAUL: Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so does Mark, Mark where are you? (stands) and Aristarchus (stands).....
And Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. (stand)
NARRATOR: You are all sending your greetings in this letter to Philemon. Give them a wave over in Colossae. Now you can sit down, thank you.
PAUL: These final words to all of you at the church in Philemon’s house in Colossae - (READING loudly) The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Paul stumbles back to his chair and sits down exhausted)
NARRATOR (approaches PAUL)- Er, do you need someone to take the letter to Philemon for you? I can do it if you like….
PAUL Alright then. Just you make sure it gets there safely ( ONESIMUS helps Paul roll up the letter (script) and gives it to NARRATOR who starts off towards stage R. Paul shouts) STOP! You need to take ONESIMUS with you too - I’m sending him, too - with the letter.
(ONESIMUS kisses Paul, hugs him and goes to the NARRATOR. Paul and Onesimus wave goodbye. NARRATOR and ONESIMUS walk slowly across to L stage, then across front of stage to centre while speaking as follows:)
NARRATOR Come on useful one, I’m sure you will get a warm welcome at Colossae. Don’t worry. (To audience) So there you have it, or rather there I have it - here in my hands - the original letter of Philemon (walking slowly).
PHILEMON (Sees them far off) Onesimus? Is that you? - (delighted he runs and hugs Onesimus tightly) How I hoped for this day! My son Onesimus, youre back. Thank God.
ONESIMUS: Will you forgive me?
PHILEMON: Of course (they hug again).
NARRATOR - Excuse me er...I take it you are Philemon? (Philemon nods) I have a letter for you.
PHILEMON Oh, who’s it from?
NARRATOR From Paul - the one that used to be called Saul - in Rome? in prison?
PHILEMON Oh, Paul! (Philemon beams and NARRATOR hands the letter to PHILEMON who receives it eagerly. While both have hold of it - All freeze)