By: Staci Stallings
Every year during the Tridium, we read in Mass the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as the Gospel. When I was back home, we all had little books that we would read it from. The church where I am now doesn’t have those. I miss them. One of the most difficult passages of that reading when everyone had the little books was the part when Pontius Pilate thinks he’s found a way to get Jesus off the hook without declaring Him innocent himself. Pilate remembers, “This is the time of the year that I release one prisoner to you. So which will it be?”
When we had books, the whole congregation, with the print in big, bold letters would say together so it sounded like a roar, “Barrabas! We want Barrabas! Release Barrabas!” To which our Pilate would reply, “What shall I do with Jesus?” And we would all say together, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
That was never an easy passage to get through because it puts the words they screamed into your mouth. My mouth. I have to say, “Crucify Him!” as I do so often when I make horrible choices that do not honor my God. When I sin, I willingly say, “Crucify Him!” Oh, that’s tough! It’s hard to think about saying that, making that choice. It’s easier when you aren’t thinking about Jesus standing there, beaten and helpless. But saying that reminds you, that that’s what you do in fact do when you choose “not God” in your life.
Now, there are times in my walk with God that He shows me things, and I go, “Wow, God. That’s cool.” And then there are times when He hits me between the eyes with a 2 x4.
This morning my husband went to the adult Sunday School class, and afterward, we were talking about the lesson they had. He said, “Do you know what Barabbas means?”
“Uh, no. Never really thought about it. I just know he was a really bad guy.”
“Barabbas means… son of God.”
SAY WHAT? Really? My mind started that spinning little whirly-gig thing it does when it learns something new… searching, seeking, putting pieces together as new understanding dawns. Son of God? Why would his name mean THAT? He was a murderer! He was an insurrectionist! His name had been on the Most Wanted for lo so many years! Son of God? He was hardly a son of God…
And then slowly the light begins to shine in my darkness. I begin to understand.
“Jesus took his place,” my husband said.
Then I could see it. Barrabas, a murderer, an insurrectionist, the worst of the worst, an enemy of the people was set free, and Jesus took his place… willingly.
As I absorbed that, more understanding dawned. “Barrabas isn’t Barrabas. Barrabas is ME!” The worst of my worst. Those places and things I hope no one ever finds out about, those places that I have hurt others and led them astray, those places I’ve willfully chosen insurrection to God’s will so I could do my own will. And Jesus looks at me as He stands there beaten and bloody, not in judgment, but knowing He is to take my place.
Oh, boy, did that get my attention!
Think of it this way, you have been extracted from your deep, dark, dank cell. Today you are to be crucified for all the things you have done, but wait… first, you are taken up to the balconey where Pilate, your judge, is seated. Below you is a crowd, hungry for someone’s blood, and you’re pretty sure it’s yours. But anger and hatred have already turned your heart to stone. Fine. They can send you to death. You hate them all anyway. Then for a moment, your gaze traces over across the way to the man standing on the other side of Pilate, if He is indeed a man. It’s hard to tell. His face is covered with blood and dirt. On His head is a mesh of thorns that some cruel someone put on His head. On His back is a cloak of purple, but through the purple you can see the red of His blood seeping through.
He looks almost dead.
Carefully, you look back to your guard and whisper, “Who is that?”
The guard doesn’t look happy, but he whispers back, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Understanding sinks in. You had thought by how He looked, maybe His crimes were in fact worse than yours. But now you know. This guy is a hero to the whole countryside. In fact, it wasn’t even last week that you could hear the crowds from your cell block cheering for Him.
The knowledge sinks deep into your gut as Pilate says, “Whom shall I release to you?”
This is a no-brainer for the people. Their hero. Or you–a guy who’s been on the Most Wanted list for a decade. They hate you. They love Him. Like this is even a choice.
Yep, you’re already planning what to tell the guards to make for your last meal.
But then, something strange happens. The crowd? What are they yelling? “Barrabas. We want Barrabas!”
Imagine your surprise. Barrabas? This can’t be happening. You must be hallucinating. Why would they want you? Why would they call your name? Don’t they know what you have done?
As you look over, He catches your eye, this Jesus person, and for one split second, in all the world there is only you and Him. You expect to see hate and anger in His eyes, but there is nothing like that. Only love and acceptance… for you.
The guards take off your chains even as Pilate says to the crowd, “What do you want me to do with Jesus?”
The crowd yells back, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The anger and hatred from them is so great, you can feel it like great waves coming at you. Their cries are blood-thirsty and raw. You know that because you have felt those in your own gut. But you do not feel them now. As the guards lead you from the balcony, away to freedom, you look back one more time. There He is. Jesus. Bloody, beaten, breathing, trying not to cry as He absorbs the hatred flung at Him from the world. He has taken your place. You are free.
You are free.