The account of Barabbas in the Passion story has always been one that has interested me.  From what I’ve read, it was very un-Pilate-like to want to appease the Jewish people.  If I recall correctly, I seem to think that Pilate didn’t really give a rip about the Jewish people, hated being in Judea and was ready to move on with his life at any point.  Those don’t seem like characteristics of somebody who would be willing to release a prisoner to make the people happy.  Of course, he was in Jerusalem during a time when the population was more than tripled (Passover).  He’s not a stupid man.  He knows when he is outnumbered.  In the end, the Romans would crush any kind of rebellion, but there’s no guarantee he would make it that far.

Regardless, the way the story goes, Pilate was feeling generous on this particular morning.  It could be because his wife had a dream about Jesus and told him to not mess with the guy.  It could be because he wanted to appease the people during a massive holiday.  Who really knows?  However, the people don’t choose the one that Pilate wanted them to choose.  They chose Barabbas, a “revolutionary who committed a murder in an uprising” as Mark puts it.  The people chose a revolutionary and a murderer over the Prince of Peace.

I’m sure Barabbas had noble intentions.  I’m sure he wanted to do what he thought was best for his country.  He was just trying to free the people from Roman occupation.  It’s not like he was a bad guy.  Sometimes, the circumstances we find ourselves in are far too deep for us to handle.  We do things that we probably wouldn’t normally do.  In other circumstances, Barabbas was probably a pretty good guy.  He probably played some baseball in the backyard with his kids.  Cooked out on the grill on the weekends.  Worked his 9-5 and loved his family.  But the occupation was just too much.  He hated the Romans, their taxes, their laws, their soldiers, the collaborators.  So, he killed one of them.  And now, it was time for him to pay for his crimes.  It was time for him to be lifted up (literally) as an example to others who may be thinking along the same lines.  But along comes Jesus.

Jesus, a prophet some said.  Others saw him as a great rabbi, a teacher, one who cared for the poor.  One who dared stand up to the crooked establishment and pointed out their religious hypocrisy.  Here he was, but for very different reasons.  He didn’t kill anybody.  As far as Pilate was concerned, he wasn’t even worthy of the death penalty, but the Jewish leaders were insistent, and since they were not allowed to carry it out, the Romans had to do it.  Surely, Pilate thought, this is a no-brainer.  A violent man versus a man who teaches and heals the sick.  Surely, the people would not support putting such a man to death.  Surely, Barabbas would be the one who gets executed and Jesus the one who gets set free.  And, yet, the people shouted for Barabbas, and Jesus took his place.

That’s kind of what Jesus does, isn’t it?  He takes our place.  We all have a little Barabbas in us, and he takes our place.

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