Summary: Two revolutionaries stand before the people--Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas represents a revolution by violence and power, and Jesus a revolution of love. The crowd chooses Barabbas
As a student of history and of people, I have often wondered why some people are attracted to groups and activities that are abhorrent to others. For example, why did the people of Germany elect Adolf Hitler to power? In 1926 Hitler published his book, Mein Kampf in which he clearly stated his ideas and beliefs. They were the ideas of a crazy, evil man. Still the German people elected him in 1933. I wonder why some devout Muslims join terrorist organizations and inflict death and destruction on innocents. Not to be outdone I wonder why their Christian counterparts join militias and white supremacist organizations. Today in Uganda the legislature is seeking to pass a bill making homosexuality a crime punishable by death, while their Christian constituents take the law into their own hands.
Certainly, this is not a new phenomenon. We see a similar situation in the gospel lesson today. The crowd picks Barabbas to be released, and when asked what they wanted done with Jesus they answered, “Crucify him!”
THE SCENE AND THE CHOICE
The conflicts earlier in the week have quickly escalated beyond debate and confrontation to life and death. Around the Passover meal table, Jesus proclaims to the disciples that the blood he would shed was the blood of a new, life-giving covenant. His prophecy that he would be betrayed was fulfilled later on Thursday night when Judas led a contingent of temple guards to the Garden of Gethsemane in order to arrest Jesus.
The religious leaders hold an illegal, kangaroo court and try Jesus. With trumped up charges and witnesses who perjure themselves they pass a verdict of guilty and condemn Jesus to death. Unable to carry out the death penalty, the religious leaders lead Jesus before Pilate so that the Romans can carry out their sentence.
Jesus stands before both Pilate and the crowd. As Mark records the events of that infamous Friday morning, he turns the scene from a mere lynch mob to a microcosm of a cosmic struggle. Humankind is given a choice—Jesus or Barabbas. Both men are revolutionaries, but the paths of their revolutions are diametrically opposed. The choice is between a murderer who uses treachery and physical power, or a healer who claims to be the truth and advocates the power of love. The crowd must choose between Barabbas whose name literally means “son of man” or Jesus, the Son of God.
The crowd chooses Barabbas. They go with the tried and true—power, domination and conflict. They reject love, service, and peace.
Mark is very clear in his story that events of Thursday and Friday were not an accident. Jesus did not fall into a trap. God did not drop the ball. Instead these events are seen as part of a divine plan that was conceived before the beginning of the world. The actors in the play, which we read today, act in opposition to Jesus and his teachings as God’s will is carried out. The actors demonstrate what the followers of Jesus and the community of faith are not to do.