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
Mark 15:1-20 “Friday—Following Revolutionaries”
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.
The religious leaders, who have been identified as the Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees and chief priests oppose Jesus because they are jealous. Jesus poses a threat to their way of life, their comfort and their power. These leaders fight to keep control of their fiefdom. As people of God, we find ourselves in opposition to God’s will when we fight desperately to keep control rather than to “let go and let God.” Hitler looks appealing.
Pilate is an opposition player because he wants to please the people. Pilate knows what is right and what is wrong. He perceives that the religious authorities are attempting to kill Jesus out of jealousy. He knows that Jesus is innocent. Still, Pilate condemns Jesus to death, because he wants to please the crowd. When we prioritize pleasing others above doing what is right, we find ourselves opposing God’s will, while evil beacons to us.
The third set of actors is the crowd. They allow themselves to be worked up and controlled by their religious leaders. When told to choose Barabbas, they do. When told to reject Jesus, they cry out, “Crucify him!” What would have happened if one or two lone voices would have resisted the crowd and called up, “We want Jesus!” We have heard that it is written, “God’s ways are not our ways.” Often times God’s will is not the will of the majority. As followers of Jesus Christ we frequently find ourselves going against the crowd and what is popular. Only a few of us might oppose the evil before us, knowing that evil prospers when people do nothing.
THE DAILY CHOICE
Mark wrote his gospel to a group of believers who were faced with the choice of the crowd—Do they follow a rebel who advocates the violent overthrow of the government, or do they follow the ways of Jesus and invoke change through love?