Friday, March 19, 2010

Lent Reflections: Jesus, Barabbas & Pilate

Another interesting topic. This week was more about people outside of the Jewish religious leadership community and their relationship to Jesus.

The Sanhedrin took Jesus to Pilate as they did not have the power to execute. They had to come up with a reason as Rome did not care about blasphemy. They decided to accuse him of claiming to be King of the Jews, which was a likely road to execution -- Rome would not take kindly to someone wanting to take leadership of the Jews. They had spent a lot of time in the past few centuries taking care of insurrections and the messiah du jour. People had expected/wanted Jesus to be a messiah that would save them from the Romans and make everything good in this life. When they greeted him with palms the week before, they were greeting him as a hero, a rescuer, the one who would give them a new kingdom in this world. They didn't understand the kind of kingdom Jesus was promising.

I'd like to write about Barabbas first. I find him a very interesting character, even though he seems to be a very small part of the story. Jesus Barabbas (or Jesus Bar-Abbas). Now, he was the type of messiah the Jews were looking for. Most likely, he wanted to be the one to lead the Jews to overthrow the Romans, to take political power. He had most likely heard of Jesus of Nazareth, maybe even considered him a rival -- after all, Jesus had talked of leading a "new" kingdom. Barabbas had already made one attempt to take over with the sword and it landed him in jail, waiting for a cross of his own. I wonder if the thought ever crossed his mind that he might be the one released by Pilate for Passover. What went through his mind when the guards came to get him? Could he hear the crowds chanting his name? Was he thrilled to get another chance to lead the Jews to rebellion? Did he understand what it meant that Jesus of Nazareth was taking his place?Was he happy? "Better him than me"? Was he confused? We don't know what happened to Barabbas after he was released. The next big rebellion was 40 years away -- did he try something before that and ended up in the same spot as before? Was he a part of that next rebellion?

And the people that called for Barabbas' release? Did they understand what they were choosing? I think so. They wanted someone to lead them in an uprising in this world. They didn't understand what kingdom Jesus was talking about. They didn't care about the next world, they cared about this world. I think many of us would make the same decision today. We want our leaders to come in and make changes NOW. We don't want to wait a few years or decades for things to get better; we want things to be better now. And when things don't change fast enough, we look for the next messiah who promises to make things better, and fast. Which Jesus will you choose?

Then there's Pilate. The Gospels paint Pilate as much as a coward, one who was swayed by the crowd, as one who did not hesitate to kill Jews (Luke 13:1). Tradition holds that Pilate was inflexible, harsh and stubborn. I wonder why Pilate was so hesitant to kill Jesus; did he had an inkling of what it would mean to put Jesus on the cross? He didn't really need a reason, and the Sanhedrin gave him the perfect one: Jesus was claiming to be King of the Jews. Yet, Pilate went through the trial, looking for a reason to NOT kill Jesus. He asked the crowd numerous times. He tried to pass the decision off to Herod, whose father had tried to kill the baby Jesus. He did everything he could to not crucify Jesus, except actually make the decision and release Jesus.

I think Pilate's actions are understandable. How many times have I gone along with the crowd or with what society said was okay when I knew it was the wrong choice? Trying to satisfy myself or others rather than God led me down several wrong paths. I have heard the siren song of the crowd. I hear it still today. What matters is the choice I make when I hear that song. Do I satisfy the crowd and wash my hands of the decision? Or do I do what I know to be right and take the responsibility?

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