Friday, May 22, 2015

Godspell and the Parables (part 4): Unmerciful Servant


Robin Lamont, who sings "Day by Day" in Godspell

Merrell, not Jesus, narrates the Unmerciful Servant parable. As he describes the king to whom the debt of “millions” is owed (ten thousand talents in Matt. 18:23-35), Robin starts playing the role of the king, climbs up on a truck, and places a mock crown on her head. The other disciples sing “yeah, yeah,” after each line of the narration. As Merrell continues his narration of the story, the other disciples actively participate, either in singing numerous responses or acting out the roles of the two debtors—Jeffrey plays the role of the first servant, and Jerry plays the role of the second. Other disciples join in to narrate—John the Baptist/Judas (see below), Gilmer, and Lynne each take turns—but once again it is Jesus who supplies the moral of the story at the end: “And that is how my Heavenly Father will deal with you unless you forgive your brothers and sisters from your hearts.”

This parable causes an epiphany for Robin, and she sings “Day By Day” in response, thus becoming the first disciple to declare that she follows Jesus. This is a major step toward the various characters pledging their loyalty to Jesus, stating their belief, and having the faith to become a member of the community that is forming around Jesus and his teachings. To a large extent the majority of the first part of the film consists of the “clown” Jesus inspiring his disciples to listen, understand, and believe in very profound insights about love, caring for one another, integrity, humility, and service, mostly through his parables (de Giere 2008: 57).


At some point during the course of the film, the character playing John the Baptist morphs into Judas the betrayer. This transition helps underscore the point that in the kingdom of heaven according to Godspell, no one is left behind; all are included. When Judas mocks Jesus’s next teaching—that one is supposed to turn the other cheek—Jesus slaps him; Judas decides to turn the other cheek, and Jesus embraces him.

Next: The Sheep and Goats parable.

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