For the Prophet, “The Play’s the Thing…”

source: seattlemunicipalarchives via Flickr
source: seattlemunicipalarchives via Flickr

The prophet found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” So the man struck him and wounded him. Then the prophet went and stood by the road waiting for the king. He disguised himself with his headband down over his eyes. As the king passed by, the prophet called out to him, “Your servant went into the thick of the battle, and someone came to me with a captive and said, ‘Guard this man. If he is missing, it will be your life for his life, or you must pay a talent of silver.’ While your servant was busy here and there, the man disappeared.”

“That is your sentence,” the king of Israel said. “You have pronounced it yourself.”

Then the prophet quickly removed the headband from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. He said to the king, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’” Sullen and angry, the king of Israel went to his palace in Samaria. 1 Kings 20:37-43 (NIV)

I will never forget this one day in an Acting class I participated in college. Students were broken up in pairs and each pair prepared a short scene to perform before the class. My partner and I played our scene and, as we were playing the short scene, something remarkable happened. I have since learned that there are rare moments as an actor when you are on stage and you experience this (perhaps it happens frequently to great actors who are on stage for a living, but I believe it’s rare even then). When it happens you lose yourself in the portrayal and in the moment you are playing. The audience is caught up in it, as well. There’s this thing that happens, which is nearly impossible to describe or explain. I happens in that place at that moment between the actors on stage and between the stage and the audience which is a communal and emotional and spiritual moment experienced by the whole.

The scene ended and there was no polite, golf-clap applause that is traditionally offered to the players by the rest of the class. There was just an “oh….wow” kind of silence. I felt a surge of emotion like I wanted to cry. It was the power of theatre as a medium to relate story and theme experientially. It is that experience which is at the heart of what I love about live theatre.

One of the things I love about the stories of the ancient prophets is the way they used theatre to communicate their message. The prophet in today’s chapter creates a character and a story: A man is commanded to guard an enemy prisoner and is told that he will be sentenced to death if the prisoner escapes, which he does. He develops his character: He asks another to punch him in the face to make it look like he’d been wounded. He then performs his improvised scene: He plays out his part to the unsuspecting King Ahab when the king passes by, and in the playing out of the scene the King’s hypocrisy is revealed.

“The play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,”

– Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, Line 416-417

I love that God’s Message can be communicated in endless number of expressive mediums from art to poetry to stage to novel to film to graphic design. And, I love that each expressive medium can communicate pieces of God’s truth in powerful ways unique to that medium.

One thought on “For the Prophet, “The Play’s the Thing…””

  1. Tom, today I read your comments before posting this. When reading, I felt like I was watching a production unfold. So, when I saw Acting in the first line of your post, I wanted to understand your take on the chapter. I don’t consider myself a student of literature or theater by any stretch, but I appreciate you connecting the dots for me. It makes the Message even larger, more impactful and amazing to me. Thank you!

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