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Telling Secrets

faith, fatherhood, and culture

JESUS BARABBAS

Saturday, April 15, 2006















During the Good Friday service at City Presbyterian this evening, I discovered something in the Passion story I never caught before. The liturgy that Rev. Sam read referred to Barabbas as an "insurrectionist and a murderer." This is the person, of course, that the Jewish leaders chose over Jesus when Pilate tried to take advantage of a custom to clear his name from condemning an innocent man to death.

When we got home, I double checked in my Bible that this really was who Barabbas was and that it wasn't some whacked out Presbyterian thing. Turns out it's true -- Matthew has Pilate asking if the Jews wanted either "Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who calls himself Messiah." Mark, Luke, and John all refer to Barabbas as someone who took part in a recent insurrection and who in the process had committed murder. So he wasn't just some schmo murderer who Pilate happened to pull out of his hat. He was a major political prisoner.

If my thinking is right, then this actually gets better. The Jews had been waiting hundreds of years for the Messiah to come rescue them from Roman rule. They'd been waiting so long that the leaders, the Pharisees and Company, got in good with the governor and enjoyed some special treatment that no other religious or ethnic group got to experience, like a measure of self-rule. Sure, they still wanted to be free. Then, Jesus came along, claiming to be the One they had been waiting for, except that he didn't have an army and didn't kick any Roman ass. Instead he gave the JEWS hell, which of course, ticked them right off. Maybe, in the end, they actually believed he was who he said he was and didn't want to accept it. They knew their prophecy well enough, but they didn't want some peacenik messiah; they wanted a fire, brimstone, and magic warhawk messiah.

Whatever they actually thought, they wanted Jesus dead because at least he wasn't who he claimed to be, and at worst he was a trouble maker who posed a threat to their powerful status. Pilate most likely understood this political mess which is why he offered one of their activists back to them to calm them down and prevent another insurrection that was brewing on the spot. The crowd was getting awful rowdy again and he was sweating. Come to think of it, he knew very well the implications of his decision because his WIFE knew and was so worried she had a nightmare about it. So, his choice was kill an innocent man to save his hide or let Jesus go free and face another, probably worse, coup attempt. I think the stakes were even higher for Pilate because he seems to have believed that Jesus was who he said he was, which meant fearful trouble for him however he decided. So he copped out and in the process placated the Jews -- actually a very clever decision. And of course the Jews wanted Barabbas rather than Jesus because at least Barabbas would be back in action fighting for them again, which was a lot more than what Jesus would offer them.

Pretty fascinating stuff when you paint the whole picture.

  1. Anonymous Anonymous said:

    Great observations. It got me wondering about if we are really any different than the Jews in the courtyard shouting "Give us Barabas!" Sure we say we want Jesus, but really that only translates into "I really just don't want to go to Hell, and since you say Jesus is the only fire insurance I can get, well then I'll take one get out of Hell free policy."
    Of course our soverign Father didn't instigate 'opperation Jesus' following the fall in the Garden so as to say, "Crap, they blew it already, now what am I going to do? Hum, I'll crucify my son so I can have a relationship with humanity." Yet that is precisely what modern American's believe. Jesus is an Add-On. We live our lives like normal and add Jesus on so we won't go to Hell.

    Jesus died for God, not for us. He died for God's glory, yet some of us will get the benefit of his work. Jesus taught some hard stuff, even his disciples said, "Hey, this is hard teaching!" following the bread of live passage in John.

    I'm afraid we don't fully know what it means when we say "Give us Jesus." and perhaps that is why we don't say it at all. It seems that for those that really grasp what it means to say "Give us Jesus." their is ultimately a great transformation of life from the inside out. If people who lay claim to Christianity have really not chosen Barabas, you would think our world would be profoundly different.

    I guess we're much more comfortable with murdering insurrectionists than we thought.

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