Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Mark 15, verses 6-15.
Nobody knows who Barabbas was. Nobody knows exactly what insurrection is the one referred to here. And nobody knows just exactly whether Barabbas himself had murdered someone, ordered a murder, participated in one, or really the exact circumstances that landed Barabbas in prison. His presence in the story of the passion is for contrast, to provide a foil to pit against Jesus, someone who had done something so heinous and vile that there would be no way the Jews would allow Pilate to release him instead of Jesus.
That’s not how things turned out. This you know.
Tell me, what’s so different today? I won’t ‘go political’ but did you ever follow the story of Leonard Peltier? Peltier is an American Indian activist serving out double life sentences for murdering an FBI agent. There are reasons why his trial and imprisonment are controversial and I won’t go into them today. The point of bringing him up is that he was convicted of doing something so egregious that the law says he cannot ever go free.
Or there is Mumia Abu-Jamal, serving life without parole in Pennsylvania. Jamal is a former Black Panther radical convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. Same point: he was convicted of something so awful that he can never live free again.
Charles Manson. John Wayne Gacy. Ted Bundy. Ted Kaczinski. Timothy McVeigh. OJ Simpson. Imagine any one of them, Mumia Abu-Jamal, or Leonard Peltier in prison there with Jesus, and when the warden says “I’ll give you Jesus or one of these guys,” instigators whip up the crowd to demand the freedom of ‘one of the guys.’
What had Jesus done up to that point? Nothing. Nothing at all. He hadn’t committed a crime. He hadn’t ridiculed the government. He hadn’t accused the church leaders of anything they weren’t actually doing. He hadn’t even told a white lie. Jesus had done nothing wrong, yet the Jewish leaders, then the Jewish crowd, demanded His death.
And what was Pilate’s reaction? “Are you serious?…yes you are….ok, I give up. Crucify Him.” Pilate caved.
We caved. We made it happen. We today who are so enamored of the Kardashians, The Bachelor and Bachelorette, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and a thousand other tawdry malcontents are members of that crowd. We don’t want to turn our lives around. We demand anything but what we need, not realizing that the only other option is to get what we deserve. We demand the killers. We demand Barabbas.
Lord Jesus, forgive me for siding with the crowd, for my sins that took You to Calvary.
Read Mark 15, verses 1-15.