Sunday, April 1, 2012
The Two Barabbas
Today’s reading kicks off Holy Week, the holiest week for Christians, since it is the final week leading to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his rising from the dead – Easter.
The reading is from Mark 15:
7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barab'bas.
8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do for them.
9 And he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?"
10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.
11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barab'bas instead.
12 And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?"
13 And they cried out again, "Crucify him."
14 And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him."
15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barab'bas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
I have often read this passage but our priest pointed out to us today that Barabbas' name appears as bar-Abbas in the Greek texts. It is derived ultimately from the Aramaic בר-אבא, Bar-abbâ, "son of the father". According to early Greek texts, Barabbas' full name was Jesus Barabbas. Later texts shorten his name to just Barabbas.
So there were actually two Barabbas. One Barabbas was Jesus Christ – Son of God, Our Father in Heaven. The other Barabbas was Jesus Barabbas – a bandit, insurrectionist, murderer, and condemned man who was also “son of the father” but a human father.
And then there is Pilate.
Pilate the man who has to make the decision of life or death – to condemn a man that he thinks is innocent or to follow the crowd who wants him to release a man that he thinks is guilty of murder and insurrection.
It is a trap that Pilate has set for himself. As governor, he did not need to consult with the crowd. Only he has the right to condemn someone to death. Yet, he sought to ask the crowd because he thought they would vote to release Jesus Christ and then he would be off the hook for the decision.
Now, the crowd has spoken and the decision falls back to Pilate. And rather than do the right thing, Pilate lets the crowd have their way. He orders Jesus crucified and washes his hands – but that kind of blood won’t wash off.
And like so many stories in the Bible, this story is about us.
We are the crowd that shouts “Crucify him!” every time that we sin and do not seek reconciliation. We are the Roman soldiers that mock and spit upon Jesus whenever we ignore the plight of the poor and the innocent when we use our power for our own pleasure instead of to help.
But most of all we are Pilate.
When we face our daily choices of right or wrong and choose wrong because it is easier not because it is right – we are Pilate. When we do not stand up for our principles because we are afraid that it will not be popular – we are Pilate. When we allow innocents to suffer and die because it is a controversial topic – we are Pilate.
In our world, there is often two Barabbas. One calls us to be gentle, meek, humble, to work for peace and to take care of those that are at the very bottom of our social ladder. Jesus Christ tells us that when we care for these “least of us” that we care for Him. The other Barabbas calls us to violence. That if we want something, we just need to take it; if someone oppresses us or hurts us then it is OK to hurt them back. Yet, in the end, an eye for an eye leaves us all blind.
In the end we are Pilate and we must choose and be accountable for our choice.
I choose to follow Jesus Christ, the Son of our Father in heaven. If in picking up this cross, I am not popular then that is OK because the crowd is not who I am trying to please. I hope that you will make the same decision.
It can be a lonely road – let’s walk it together!