On Barabbas and the freedom of Easter
Scroll through the story of Jesus’ passion, conviction, torture and death, and you’ll run across any number of extraneous characters.
There’s the servant of the high priest, whose ear is severed; the disciple whose cloak is ripped off (and who subsequently runs away); Simon of Cyrene; Joseph of Arimathea; and on and on.
And then there’s Barabbas, the man literally set free from a justifiable death sentence.
You’ll remember the scene, I’m certain, if you’re at all familiar with any of the four Gospels: Pontius Pilate, a Roman prefect, preparing his customary prisoner release for the Passover. The Gospels portray Pilate as highly suspicious of Jesus’ accusers, at one point even asking Him to defend Himself (which Jesus declines to do at any point). But Pilate has one more ace in the hole: He can release Jesus, per his custom, and thus avoid executing an innocent man.
Only the crowd, to Pilate’s consternation, calls out for … Barabbas.
Little is said about the man. His name literally means “Son of the Father,” with “Abba” (no, not that Abba) being the term Jesus most often employs to address God (it’s a personal form of the word, like “Daddy”). Some early Greek texts even refer to him as Jesus Barabbas.
He was either a bandit or a murderous insurrectionist, depending on which Gospel you read (Matthew calls him “a notorious prisoner”). Regardless, the narratives are clear: Barabbas was imprisoned with justification, and standing next to him was a man in whom no one could find any wrong.
In Mel Gibson’s passion play from 2004, the man playing Barabbas looks an awful lot like a character from “Braveheart,” a wild man with violent tendencies. As he stands next to Pilate, and the crowd calls out for his release, he is alternately thrilled and confused. There’s a moment — just a moment — where he starts to walk away after his release, then turns back to face Jesus.
“What is going on?” he appears to think. But then he dashes off and is never seen again.
Every year I hear the same story and really feel a touch of anger. Even if authorities believed Jesus a threat to the power structure, or a false prophet, what justice system on Earth would free a murderer to satisfy petty jealousy? How could they possibly sleep at night with that knowledge?
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized what was taking place. Because really, I’m Barabbas, like the rest of us. And that’s us standing there next to Jesus, confused about why we’re going free, while Someone Else goes to die instead.
There’s nothing that says what happened to the “Son of the Father” after he was turned loose. Some traditions hold that he followed Jesus to the cross; others that he died in a rebellion against Rome some time after.
I like to think he went home and some shocked relative asked him how he’d escaped.
“Actually … Somebody took my place.”
Thursday, April 21, 2011
shameless promotion (2.0): April 21, 2011 (note: column did not actually run)
Editor's note: In the ongoing effort of this blog to
fire the hell out of Will Heath promote its primary author's failing career as a writer, we present to you this week's unbelievably pretentious column from the St. Clair Times. Please note: This week's column did not actually run due to an editor who had good sense spatial limitations. It is, in this sense, a blog exclusive. As always, feel free to comment here or on Twitter. We thank you in advance for feigning interest.