If I could offer you a choice: between a savior who tells you to return hate with love, or a savior who gives you permission to strike back at those who do you evil- if I could give you a choice, which one would you choose?
If you could choose: between a savior who says: ‘those who pick up the sword will die by it,’ or a savior who invites you to take up arms against the world’s villains- which one would you choose?
If you had a choice: between a savior who promises you a better life and the end of suffering, or a savior who promises you a life of cross-bearing- which one would it be?
Who would you bet on?
A savior who refuses to be a victim, or a savior who refuses to be anything but?
A savior who promises to liberate the poor or a savior who becomes poor?
A savior who promises to turn the clock back to the time you were most happy, or a
savior who speaks of a future where everything is new and unfamiliar and turned upside down?
Which one would you choose? Which one really?
If you were a Jew in Jesus’ day, the raw reality of Rome’s invasion left you with three political options.
If you wanted to hang on to your wealth and status then you could collaborate with the enemy. Think Herod.
Instead of collaborating, you could turn within and use Rome’s oppression as an opportunity to call people to reform and holiness. This was the route taken by the Pharisees.
A third option, popular with the masses, saw the overthrow of Rome as the only faithful option. Those who chose this option were called Zealots, and they pushed for an armed Revolution that would return Israel to the glory it had known under King David.
Depending upon your point of view, the Zealots were either criminals or freedom fighters. At least one of Jesus’ twelve disciples was a Zealot, Simon.
The Zealots believed a time was coming when God would break into history and rid the Promised Land of the Roman invaders. And they believed their violence was in harmony with the violence God was about to wreak very soon.
Barabbas is a Zealot, and the fact that his crimes were famous probably means he was something of a folk hero to the pilgrims gathered for Passover. It’s likely too that Barabbas’ name and deeds were better known in Jerusalem than Jesus’ own. It’s even possible that Barabbas had a larger following than did Jesus of Nazareth.
Every year, at Passover, to keep a lid on any Revolutionary fervor, Pilate had two choices available to him. He could crucify some Jewish insurgents just to remind everyone who was in control. Alternatively, he could release a prisoner in order to appease the crowds. Usually, Pilate did both.
That Pilate even offers to release Barabbas, a known revolutionary, shows that Pilate doesn’t actually expect the chief priests to push the charges against Jesus any further. Zealots like Barabbas wanted to assassinate the Jewish elites too.
Pilate expects the chief priests’ jealousy of Jesus to be outweighed by their fear of violent radicals like Barabbas. That the chief priests refuse to relent on Jesus shows that they understand how Jesus poses a different kind of threat.
So Pilate lines them up, side by side, and gives the crowd a choice.
They’re both named “Jesus,” which means ‘God saves’ or ‘Savior.’
The one’s last name ‘Bar-abbas’ means ‘son of the Father.’ The other, not by name but by origin, claims the same identity. In other words both of them are named ‘Jesus, son of the Father.’
They’re both criminals in the eyes of the chief priests.
They’re both opposed to the Powers that be.
They both ignite within their People the hope that one day soon they will be free. Pilate lines them up, side by side. These two ‘Jesus-es.’
‘Which would you choose?’ Pilate asks them.
Which ‘Savior’ do you want?
Barabbas promises he can change the world by changing who’s in charge of it. Barabbas promises everything will be better if only we get rid of Pilate and the
Priests and Rome.
Barabbas asks his people to take up arms.
Jesus asks his people to take up their cross and follow.
Matthew says that the chief priests ‘persuaded’ the crowds to choose Barabbas over Jesus. The reality is that they probably didn’t have to try very hard.
If I gave you a choice…
Would you choose a savior who butts in on your marriage and your money, who forces you to look into the mirror and own up to your own brokenness, who says you have to try and understand those you don’t like, who says you’ve got to love those who don’t like you, who says you’ve got to forgive and forgive and forgive.
Or, would you choose a savior who promises to leave the rest of your life alone and just answer the one prayer you have in your life?
Which would you choose?
A savior who will change only the pain in your life and leave the “good” alone, or a savior determined to change everything?
Pilate lines them up, side by side. Two different Jesus-es. Pick one, Pilate says.
Barabbas says ‘I can give you the life you want.’
But Jesus says ‘I can show you the life God wants.’
Barabbas believes governments and their armies are the tiller of history.
But Jesus believes the future can be moved by a Cross and the hearts that are changed by it.
Had Pilate known the crowds would choose Barabbas, he probably never would have given them a choice.
But the choice is with us all the time.