Mark 15.1-11 CEB: At daybreak, the chief priests—with the elders, legal experts, and the whole Sanhedrin—formed a plan. They bound Jesus, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” The chief priests were accusing him of many things.
Pilate asked him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? What about all these accusations?” But Jesus gave no more answers so that Pilate marveled.
During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did. Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead.
It’s a hot day. I can faintly hear the crowd outside. ‘This is it,’ I say to myself. The priest asks me if I have anything to say. Inside my head, I’m screaming, ‘I’m sorry! I was stupid! God forgive me!’ but I keep staring at the stone floor, my mouth shut. My pride so big that it fills the cell.
The guards arrive. ‘Let’s go, Barabbas.’ I glance at the priest. He looks at me with hope in his eyes. If I had my dagger, I’d cut that look from his face.
The guards lead me down the hall toward the judgment platform outside. My fellow inmates are cheering and yelling and cursing at the guards and the priest.
As I make my way to stand on the platform, the crowd is almost deafening. ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ There’s someone else standing there. I can’t make him out from this angle. Looks like the two of us will become food for the carrion crow.
I see Pilate to my right, on the other side of the first man. Pilate is so full of himself, prancing around in his fine robes. My people are starving and he has this huge table full of food just to his right. I’d give anything to make one more attempt on his life before they hang me from a tree. Never taking my eyes away from Pilate, I turn slightly to my colleague and start to tell him what I’m thinking. And then I look at him. My eye meet his eyes. His eyes pierce me to my soul.
‘Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?’ I hear Pilate ask. Wait. What? What’s going on? This is Jesus. Why is he here? I’ve never heard of him doing anything wrong. He’s helped everyone he’s met. What has he done? The fact that he’s here shows just how corrupt this government is! I’m sure the religious elitists want him out of the way so they can line their pockets with more of our money and continue to climb into bed with the Roman dogs!
The guards come and grab me to take me away. The whole time, Jesus just stares at me. Something’s wrong. That should be me. “Why is he going to be executed?” I shout. “What has he done? This is wrong! Stop this!”
I struggle to break free. Finally, after busting a guard’s nose, I rush back to Jesus. He just stands there with that look in his eyes. My heart shatters. Tears begin to burn my eyes. The guards grab me again. I feel the sudden a burst behind my left ear as one of the guards hit me with his club. Lights and color explode in my head. And then...as I see Jesus reaching out toward me...utter blackness...
Years ago, I saw a video (Really. It was a VHS video tape.) from a guy who did a one-man drama presentation. In it, he played various characters. The story seemed to be a first century reporter going throughout the region doing interviews with people who knew or met Jesus. There were very powerful performance's, as one might imagine. One of the characters he did was Barabbas. He was a rough character that was a box maker. At one point in the story, Barabbas goes and tells us his story. At one point, he talks about Jesus hanging on the cross and mumbling. Barabbas moves through the outskirts of the crowd toward the cross saying, ‘Yeah! Cuss ‘em. Cuss ‘em. Cuss them damn Gentiles. Cuss ‘em boy. You go to hell, you damn Gentiles!’ But, when then he starts to hear what Jesus was saying, ‘Forgive them...they don’t know what they’re doing...they don’t know what they’re doing.’
This seems to say something about the difference between us and Jesus. Like Barabbas in the skit, I think we would want revenge and retribution. I think if that were us standing up there, and the crowd was screaming for our death, we would be like, ‘Screw this!’ and summon the twelve battle groups of angels to obliterate everyone (Matthew 26.63 CEB)!
But look at him on the platform. Bruised and battered. Silent. Ever silent. I can imagine him looking into the crowds, eyes full of tears; a broken heart. Every now and then, he sees a face he recognizes. Are they, too, screaming for his death? And when they make eye contact, do they turn away in shame? Or do they continue in the moment, going along with the crowd.
What about us? Are we the ones in the crowd wanting blood? Or are we the ones instigating the whole thing? Perhaps we are more like Barabbas. Knowing full well that it should be us paying for our wrongs not quite sure why we get to go free but glad we are.
I think about Barabbas a lot. And honestly, it was because of that skit I saw back in the late 80’s - early 90’s. I probably hadn’t given him much thought before then. But, now and again (and mostly during these times of reading the story of Jesus last few days), I think about him and how he so much reminds me of me. While I haven’t actually killed anyone, I sure have had anger so deep that I could have (Matthew 5.21-22 CEB). Furthermore, as with yesterday’s reflection, sometimes my guilt is so deep that I can’t fathom God’s grace. But I guess that’s the point. When forgiveness comes to the unforgivable, that’s when grace is the most amazing. As Jesus looked out on the rabid mob, the grace of God must have been like a monsoon, towering over the city, ready to fall and wash them all clean. But not just them. God’s grace continues to swell ready to come crashing down upon all of us. And most of the time, it happens when we least expect it. We think that some cosmic fluke has happened and we get off scott-free. But, the wave continues to follow us. Waiting to reach the crest and come crashing down upon us. We can’t escape it. No matter what we do wrong, it’s there watching us. Waiting. And then, ‘where sin increased, grace multiplied even more’ (Romans 5.20 CEB).
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC