Which ‘Barabbas’ would we choose today?

Quill FeatherThe Palm Sunday crowds seem excited to welcome Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, laying before him their cloaks and palm branches and shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

They seem to have great expectations. But what do you suppose happened between Palm Sunday and Good Friday? On that day, ironically called “Good” because of God’s submission to the pain and power of death with us, the crowd changed its tune and cried out: “Crucify Him!”

How can the initial welcoming words turn so quickly into cries for crucifixion? Perhaps the answer might be found in the changing perceptions of what they believed Jesus could do for them.

Don’t you wonder what the people thought Jesus might do? One cue might come from the choice made when Pontius Pilate offered to release Barabbas or Jesus. It’s kind of an interesting story. You can look it up in Mark 15: 6-15 if you want.

Pilate, the ruler, seemed to have some ambivalence about proceeding with this prosecution of Jesus, so he suggests releasing Jesus. But the choice might have deeper meaning. Consider this from the teaching of John Dominic Crossan: “Bar” preceding a name meant “son of” as in Simon Bar Jonah. (Matthew 16:17 KJV) Further “Abba” was the word for father. In fact Jesus himself told us to call God “Abba”, a more endearing term for addressing God. Therefore, Bar Abbas really means “son of the Father”.

Also, according to some texts, the full name of this “rebel who had committed murder” was Jesus Barabbas or “Jesus, Son of the Father.”

Doesn’t this make you wonder if there isn’t some deeper meaning here as Pilate offers a choice between two men named “Jesus, Son of the Father”? One is a violent warrior who believes in using force. The other is a gentle, grace-filled man who taught forgiveness and non-violent responses to oppression. Might it have been that the people were in fact shouting “Hosanna” and waving palm branches before Jesus Christ, because they thought he was a “son of the Father” who would lead them in rebellion as Barabbas would have?

Now bring that question into the news of the day and ask which “Jesus, Son of the Father” would advise us to arm ourselves with handguns or allow assault weapons to be sold for self-defense? Which “Jesus, Son of the Father” would suggest the amount of money spent on military (approximately 5 or 6 times higher than China and about 10 times higher than Russia, the two next big spenders)? Which “Jesus, Son of the Father” would suggest we commit ourselves each year to pay taxes for such a large part of the budget, thus threatening our economy with debt while schools and a safety net for the poor must deal with less? Which “Jesus, Son of the Father” (Barabbas) is more highly regarded as today’s decisions are made, and which personally reveals God’s will of peace and love?

You probably know what I’m thinking here. But each of us probably should think about this. In today’s world, it isn’t easy being a disciple of the one who is the Prince of Peace.

The Rev. Mark Becker is pastor of Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Stillwater.