Maybe you already know that St. Matthew was a tax collector and that he’s credited with writing one of the four gospels.
But if you visit St. John the Baptist Church in Larksville today to watch “The Despicable Disciple,” you’ll find a fascinating backstory.
This latest passion play by the Rev. Jerry Gurka tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion as seen through the eyes of Matthew, whose early behavior is not at all what most people would expect from a saint.
“He’ll be despised at first, then hopefully beloved,” said Daniel Flannery, 45, of Pringle, who portrays the title character and fully expects audiences won’t like him in the beginning.
This Matthew follows his father, Alphaeus, into the tax business, reasoning the “Roman oppressors need someone to do their dirty work,” insults a very pregnant Mary when she is expecting Jesus, lives a life of self-indulgence and looks for every opportunity to pocket extra cash.
“He seems very worldly. He does skim money from the taxes,” Flannery said. “He delights in finery.”
This story gives Matthew a wealthy wife named Rebekah who eventually leaves him, becomes a leper and expects Jesus to cure her because she donated loaves and fishes when he was preaching.
“She’s very self-centered,” said Lucy Singer, 45, of Larksville, who has that part.
The script also ties together many elements from Bible stories, casting Matthew as the father whose son is murdered by unscrupulous laborers in a vineyard and listing Barabbas, the prisoner later released as part of a Passover custom, as a killer of Matthew’s son.
“This is really a fabulous way to study during the Lenten season,” said Helene Flannery of Pringle.
She portrays Veronica, the woman who wipes Jesus’ face and is rewarded by seeing the imprint of his face on her veil. “Father Jerry puts a different spin on the Gospel story, telling it through the eyes of real people.”
Helene Flannery and her husband, Daniel, have been involved with the play for the past three years or so, ever since they joined the church. She’s portrayed Veronica several times, she said, and always finds herself moved by the poignancy.
“Those will be real tears coming down my face,” she said.
Several dozen other parishioners have roles in the biblical drama, from Rich Wisniewski as Jesus to a cadre of soldiers who march down the aisle of the church, drumming the handles of their spears against the floor.
There are angels and devils, loose women and royal personages such as Herod from the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod from the time of Jesus’ death and Pilate.
All three of the rulers are played by Jeremy Shrawder, 32, of Larksville. “Yes, I’m type-cast,” he said. “Always a villain.”
“I’m sure the emperor doesn’t have to wait for his water bowl, so why should I?” Shrawder, as Pilate, snarled at two young soldiers, tapping his foot during a pivotal scene.
They scrambled to bring him a pitcher and bowl.