I was arrested, essentially, for being myself. I could be opinionated, and not quiet about it and I am the first to say that I have spent some time on the wrong side of the law. In my home town that hadn't led to a lot of trouble unless the Roman Guard had happened by, but here in Jerusalem things were different. It was basically a group of friends and I talking to another group over, shall we say, a difference of opinion. Things got a little loud and the guards came by to check out what they thought was a possible uprising. It wasn't really any kind of a riot over the Roman occupation, but when they came and tried to quiet us down, my temper and frustrations got the better of me and the situation got out of hand. I was arrested, charged as a revolutionary and a thief and sentenced to die. Yet here I was, brought out into the light, standing on the steps of the palace with a very unexpected chance at gaining my freedom.
The man on the other side of Pontious Pilate had been beaten badly and was barely standing. Pilate looked horrified at the sight of him and looked out to the crowd in the courtyard. He reminded them of the custom of releasing one prisoner on the occasion of the Passover and asked them who they would like it to be. By some miracle, even though Pilate suggested the man had done nothing to break the law, the crowd cried out for my release. I was freed and the other man died. He died, essentially, for my crimes, in my place, for me. My name is Barabbas.
None of us truly knows what became of Barabbas after he was set free that day. None of us really know what he had been arrested for. But there is one thing we know; when Barabbas walked through the crowd and back onto the streets of Jerusalem, he had caught a pretty lucky break. He was free and did not deserve to be. His life had been restored. With this new life, he had two choices (the familiar two roads diverging in a wood, as Frost wrote). Barabbas could return to a life of crime, murder, revolution, mayhem or whatever had landed him in the Roman poky that day. He could continue to be a hot head, essentially ungrateful for the second chance he had been given. I know that I tend to be a bit of a romantic, but truthfully, I don't like this scenario.
In my mind's eye, after a brief display of bravado and swagger as he passed through the crowd, Barabbas realizes how lucky he is and feels a pang of responsibility to the man who had taken his place. Perhaps as he is sorting this out and celebrating, he goes to find some food and clean himself up a bit. As he walks the streets, contemplating whether he should seek out his old friends or leave them behind in the city, he sees a crowd jeering at some prisoners walking toward Golgotha. And he recognizes one of them. He follows the crowd up the hill, watching as the men are spat upon and hit, cursed and abused. Barabbas watches as they lay the man on the wood of the cross, stripped of his garments and nail him through his wrists and feet. Standing at a distance, he cannot hear all of the words being said over the din of the mocking crowd, but he can see the piercing look on the man's face as he almost seems to pick Barabbas out of the crowd. And clear as day, as if hearing it through his soul more than his ears, the words;
"Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do."
At that moment, it all becomes clear to him. This man was truly holy; truly, the Son of God. He had taken Barrabas' place on the cross, an innocent man, dying for a sinner. In this moment, Barabbas experiences a conversion and a love that he never knew existed. He becomes a Christian. Barabbas immediately leaves the city, leaving his friends behind and starting a new life. He testifies wherever he goes about his encounter with Jesus Christ, the human face of the Living God. He tells of how he was a sinner yet this other man died in his place, giving him life more abundant than he had ever dreamt of.
You must admit, it is tempting to believe this story and hope that Barabbas did experience God's love and perhaps is now with Jesus, continuing to praise and worship Him in the Communion of Saints.
In the end, we may never know what happened to Barabbas after that Good Friday, but what's more important is to realize, as we come toward the Lord's Passion and the end of holy week, that in a very real way, we are ALL Barabbas. We are all sinners and we are all blessed that Jesus Christ, the Living God made flesh, died on a cross so that we could be set free to live life more abundantly than we ever could have dreamt of.
The challenge, however, is that if we are all Barabbas, then we are also faced with the two roads. Do we ignore how blessed we are and continue in blissful ignorance, or worse, outright ingratitude of Christ's suffering for us? Or do we leave our temptations behind and go out to the world to tell of the amazing things that the Lord has done for us and how He won our salvation?
Good Friday's coming fast. Which way do we go when we triumphantly swagger out of the Praetorium?