Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Name is Barabbas

My name is Barabbas.  I know what you’re thinking. This can’t be the same Barabbas I’ve heard of.  The Barabbas I know about was a wild man- a  vicious rabble rouser- an instigator of violence – a thrower of stones – a murderer. To all of which I say, yes.  All that and more. I didn’t get these scars be being a good little Jewish boy. I was an angry young man. If there had been a Hebrew Lives Matter movement, I would have led the march. And my cause was JUST.  This was our land, and these interlopers - these European Imperialists  - had no right to impose their rule over us! You see that cross there?  These Romans claimed it as a symbol of justice.  Of law and order.  But whose law?  When a law is imposed against the will of the people, is that justice?  Was it justice when I watched my people – members of my own family were tortured and killed on crosses like that?  No, to them, and to me, that cross was a symbol of oppression.  This was the tool used by monsters to keep our people from rising up.
So I did the only thing I felt was right- I fought against our oppressors. Eye for an eye and tooth for tooth.  Blood for blood!  The only justice was that which we made for ourselves.  I led our ragged band of freedom fighters in the uprising to overthrow the men who imposed this unjust rule on us.  In that fight, I drew blood.  I killed.  But in the end we were overwhelmed and overcome, and our insurrection came to an end.  That is how it happened that I was in prison during the week of the Passover feast.  And that is how I came to be offered to the people by Pilate as an alternative for Jesus bar Joseph, called by some the Christ.

I had heard of him and his teachings.  But I had never seen him before that day.   If I had, I’m sure I would have spit in his face and laughed his words to scorn.  How dare he to speak of peace while we were oppressed?  To speak of mercy while we were being unjustly treated?  To speak of love in response to such cruel hatred.
But that was before I saw him. That was before he died in my place.  When I grew up, I had a hard life.  You trust no one, you stay tough if you want to stay alive.  And you never, ever take a knife for someone else.  You look first to your own safety. You survive.  And yet, when Pilate gave the people a choice between him and me to be crucified, he seemed almost glad to die in my place. But what had he done wrong to deserve death?  Not even the religious sins the temple leaders accused him of! He talked too much, sure, but about love! I had killed a man.  If either of us was worthy of death it was me. 

After they freed me, I should have run away, gotten clear of them.   But I couldn’t.  I stood transfixed by the love I saw in this man’s eyes as the people mocked and ridiculed him.  Days before, I would have gladly joined them in their cruel laughter.  But he was standing in my place now, taking my punishment.  He had freed me from my bonds at the cost of his own life.

I followed all the way to Golgotha.  And there I watched him forgive the crowd, forgive the romans, forgive me.  And then I watched him die.  For me.  What did it all mean?  He could not be an ordinary man.  No ordinary man would do what he had done.  He had to be exactly who he claimed he was.  This man was the son of God.  And his act of mercy, his act of love, of forgiveness, had transformed the very image of the cross.  No longer could it stand for justice to the romans, or stand for oppression to me.  Instead of justice, it stood for mercy.  Instead of oppression it stood for freedom.  Instead of death, the cross now meant life.  And since that day, I have spent my life seeking to understand the full implications of that change.  I listened to the teachings of the apostles, and I looked to the prophets to see how his death—and resurrection had been promised.  How it meant mercy, forgiveness, and life.  And now. I share that message, that good news to you.