Welcome to Holy Tuesday! So in full disclosure, when I was a senior at UNC Chapel Hill I attended Holy Family Episcopal and for Lent that year, the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells (then dean of Duke Chapel) led a five week series on his book, Power & Passion and I simultaneously developed a renewed interest in pondering the scriptures as well developed a huge man-crush. But I digress.
Today, in the spirit of that book, as eye-opening and life-changing as it was for me, we'll look at one character in our passion narrative from Matthew. Why? In Wells' words, "I am assuming that every single character mentioned in the narrative is there for a reason. No detail is trivial" (p.19). (I'm paraphrasing a lot of Sam Wells' work here - please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.)
Cozy up. Grab a coffee. Ans lets look at Jesus Barabbas. Particularly, Matthew 27:15-23 where Jesus is brought before Pilate, the Roman Governor, and we learn about another character named "Jesus Barabbas." We learn he's a "notorious prisoner" and that Pilate probably wants both of them killed as they both pose a threat. But as the text says, he doesn't want a riot so he bows to the wishes of the crowd. One thing Wells points out and the thing I find most interesting is the meaning behind "Barabbas'" name. Seriously, the guy's name is Jesus Bar ("son") Abbas ("of the father"). Pilate gives the crowd a choice: Jesus son-of-the-father, or Jesus...wait for it...son of God the Father. Mind blown the first time I heard this. Still think secondary characters/details aren't important?
The crowd chooses Barabbas and we are meant to find ourselves among those ranks shouting, "We want Barabbas!" Barabbas was a zealot and he believed that Rome could be overthrown by violence. Jesus of Nazareth cannot even be reduced to the word "zealot" because his overthrowing will not only be of Rome but of DEATH ITSELF. It will be the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. Barabbas' followers just wanted Rome, out. Barabbas wasn't even a very good rebel - the guy was caught! But we and the crowd chose Barabbas. Jesus, it appeared to zealous followers of Judaism who were tired with the Jewish leaders in cahoots with the Romans, was also not a very good zealot. The change of which he spoke was to be an "inner, spiritual change" (p68). The ironic thing is, the change Jesus brings is not with violence (remember we just read that Jesus tells a disciple, "put away your sword...am I leading a rebellion?") but through willingly dying a violent death on an instrument of torture he makes the cross and resurrection the center of the universe (p81).
Questions to ponder today:
- When have we chosen Rome's way (i.e. the way of the world/idolatry/our own desires) and not God's?
- Given the choice between violence and risking compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation, which will we choose?
- Do you believe that Jesus died for something bigger than a free Jerusalem?
- Do you believe that Jesus' death was instead for love, all of humanity, and us?
- If yes, will you be open to receiving that love?
- Despite the condemnation and our choosing the easy, violent path, do we believe we are worthy of Jesus' love?
- Do we believe that we are all imperfect, broken and make terrible choices contrary to the work of the cross? And in spite of that, do you believe that in choosing the cross and death that Jesus makes us all (in all our imperfection and brokenness) worthy?