Summary: Are we much different from Barabbas?
I am Barabbas – Mark 15:1-15
So Jesus has faced his accusers, been found guilty of blasphemy, but because the Romans are in charge they have a law which states only they can pass the death sentence and carry it out. You see, when Jesus told the disciples he would be handed over to the Jewish leaders and be killed, you can see how they thought it would not happen. There was a law against it!
But where there is a will there is a way. The religious leaders can’t kill Jesus, but they know the man who can. However, they also know that the Romans won’t kill Jesus just because he broke their religious rules by claiming to be God. They have to try and show that Jesus is a threat to Rome and an opponent of Caesar. So Jesus faces the charge of proclaiming himself “King of the Jews” in direct opposition to the rule of Rome. The irony of course is that as Son of God and descendent of David, Jesus is actually King of the Jews, but neither the religious leaders nor Pilate, the Roman Governor, really believed it. He is astonished with Jesus. With Jesus’ coolness in this situation. With the way Jesus refuses to lower himself to the level of his accusers and give them an excuse to prove their point. So often, especially in a prison, we can be accused and we turn on our accusers and lower ourselves to their level, giving them just the proof they need to prove their point.
Now that Jesus won’t turn on his accusers Pilate has no excuse for siding with them. And yet he has a problem. He knows that the religious leaders have gathered a crowd within the crowd. A group that they control. If that crowd kicks off he has a big problem. Jerusalem is full of maybe 750,000 people during the Feast of Passover. Ten, maybe fifteen times its normal population. His job is to keep the peace. He has already had trouble once and Caesar’s eyes are watching him. A man called Barabbas and his gang have already caused him issues. For his own sake he can’t afford any more trouble. He comes upon an idea. Let the people think it’s their idea to release Jesus. There is a custom that every Passover a prisoner whom the crowd chooses is released. Surely the crowd will choose the harmless preacher over a murderer, so he chooses the worst prisoner in his prison to go up against Jesus. “Choose”, Pilate says, “Jesus or Barabbas”. Pilate has underestimated the control the religious leaders have over the crowd. His plan backfires and the shout goes up. “Barabbas!” they shout. He has no choice but to release him or face a riot and be answerable to his boss. Jesus’ fate is sealed and all because yet another leader fails him.
At this time of year, whenever I read this, I often wonder the same things:
• Who was Barabbas and what was he like?
• How did Barabbas come to be in that prison?
• What did Barabbas do next?
Who was Barabbas and what was he like?
His name is interesting. It comes from two Aramaic words, the language Jesus spoke. Bar, which means son and abba which means dear father or daddy. Just like me and you then Barabbas was the son of a father. He began as a baby, and his name suggests he was a favourite, he was special to his father. Maybe the apple of his father’s eye. As a toddler he would have wanted to own everything, would fall over, bang his head, have a strop, and all the things toddlers do. As he grew older he would have learned his scriptures off by heart from his mother like every Jewish boy. He may not have been very good at it so he would have been expected to follow his father into whatever way of life he had. Like any boy, Barabbas had dreams of what he wanted to do. Have a nice wife and family, land of his own perhaps, a decent life. Like you and me he had dreams and aspirations. Up to now just a normal boy whose parents wanted the best for him.
Then maybe something went wrong. How he turned out suggests a lot of pain in his life. Maybe his father died? Maybe he left? Maybe something traumatic entered his life. He certainly had a hatred for the Romans by now, so maybe the authorities were involved in causing him pain in some way. Life as a Jew was never easy under the Romans. Their taxes were heavy, they prevented Jews from worshipping properly and the soldiers often bullied and used the local population. Maybe Barabbas or members of his family were victims of this. Maybe Barabbas was led into the wrong company or felt it was down to him to even things up. Maybe he didn’t care anymore. He saw the rich and powerful around him taking what they wanted and thought “why should I act any differently?” Maybe the life of someone in his family was destroyed and his family broken up and he wanted to even the score? Maybe he just didn’t care anymore? Or just maybe, one day he found himself in the wrong place, with the wrong people at the wrong time and he was dragged into something forever which engulfed his whole life?