When I was young, the liturgies on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week made me SOOoooo uncomfortable. (cf. 1 Cor 13:11) I rebelled inside at the idea of our Lord Jesus washing others’ stinky feet, and I yearned to join the battle that St. Peter almost started by lopping off the guard’s ear. I dreaded approaching the wood of the cross to kiss it (too embarrassing!) on Good Friday, and above all I abhorred joining in the Passion Play, being a part of the crowd that chanted, “We want Barabbas!” and “Crucify him!” I didn’t want to be part of that mob. Many times, I simply stayed silent.
More and more, however, as I continue to grow in my understanding of Christ’s ultimate act of love – and in my acknowledgement of my constant and dire need for His redemptive work on the cross – I am so very thankful for Barabbas. Now, I don’t claim to have excavated all the history of this man or of his appearance in our sacred texts. What I do appreciate is that he was a sinner. What kind of sinner? Well, the four gospels have him labeled variously as a notorious prisoner (Mt 27:16), a rebel and murderer (Mk 15:7 and Lk 23:19) and a robber (Jn 18:40). I can’t speak for you, but I know that I, too, am a sinner, and at any one point in time my exact title could also be difficult for another human to name; the stamp on my mug shot might just have to pronounce me “Incorrigibly Shifty.” Whatever my most current crime might be, though, I do know that within a just system, I deserve punishment. But instead, like Barabbas, I am set free. And Jesus takes my place. Holy, innocent, merciful Jesus purposefully steps into my sinful life and accepts the necessary consequences for my crimes against Heaven.
All this leads me to wonder: What did Barabbas do next? Did he go back to his life of crime or did he re-pent, re-think, re-form? Did he ever spare any thought on the One who took his place, or did he return to a life of rebellion and infamy? Did he extend forgiveness to others in his newfound state of mercy or did he hold grudges and exact revenge? Did he celebrate his release by committing more crimes with his cronies, or did he spend his evenings in whispered wonder? Did he begin to reach out in love and generosity to his fellow humans, or did he grow bitter, angry, selfish, and ever more rebellious?
And me – what should I do next? As is often the case in Scripture, a clue comes to us from the name of our scandalous friend: Bar-abbas: translated from Aramaic, that means he’s son of the father. Gender issues aside, so am I. So are you. Alongside Barabbas, we have been set free, and by this saving grace have become adopted children of God. The true and perfect Son has paid the price, and in the process has made us co-heirs to the Kingdom: Sons Of The Father. Our only well-considered response simply must be a life of increasing communion, gratitude, joy, awe, and charity.
Parish Catechetical Leader