Thursday, February 12, 2009

Give Us Barabbas!

Mark 15:6-15 (NIV)

6Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9"Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, 10knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. 12"What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them.

13"Crucify him!" they shouted.

14"Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!"

15Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

"Give Us Barabbas!" They yelled. The crowd wanted justice for the crimes committed. Take away the criminal and give us our Savior. Barabbas is portrayed as an insurrectionists, a Zealot. Israel was being choked by the chains held by the Sadducees and the Romans. They were bleeding the land and its citizens dry of wealth, pride, dignity, and honor. The Jewish people were uniquely blessed that Rome allowed them to keep their religious traditions instead of adopting Roman ways. Religion is by far the best control in keeping the populace docile, so Rome allowed them keep their One god, for now. Those that felt Rome's iron grip tightening felt it was time to take actions into their own hands instead waiting for the Messiah.

The Zealots were a Jewish political movement in the 1st century which sought to incite the people of Iudaea Province to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from the country by force of arms, most notably during the Great Jewish Revolt (AD 66-70).

This is the group that historians originally thought that Barabbas was apart of (or even led) but there is no record of this group until after Jesus' execution. Still, as the story goes, he was arrested for inciting an insurrection.

Jesus and Barabbas are two sides of the same coin. Both resisted the establishment but took two different methods: Barabbas took on the sword while Jesus took the path of non-violent resistance (a.k.a. turn the other cheek). Some historians say that Jesus taught ways to resist Rome non-violently and that some verses like "turn the other cheek" have been interpreted without taking 1st century Palestine custom's into considerations. You can read a brief summary of it here.

Now the heart of the story between Barabbas and Jesus has to do with shifting blame of Jesus' death from the Romans onto the Jews.

Matthew 27:25 All the people answered, "His blood is on us and on our children!"

This verse is only found in Matthew and has been used by Christians to demonize the Jewish people throughout history. The Sadducees, the political Jewish group in power, worked with Rome to remove Jesus, the non-violent resistor, who was drawing in massive crowds. Because of guerrilla fighters like Barabbas, Rome does not like huge crowds of people where the Zealots can hide and attack the Romans unnoticed.

So now we have two freedom fighters, one uses violence, the other non-violence. So which one do the crowds ask Pilate to release as by tradition (no record of this tradition is found outside of the Gospels) during Passover? The crowds yell for Barabbas, but when you look closer at Barabbas' name things begin to get really interesting.

In Aramaic "Barabbas" translates to "son of the father".

(Aramaic: בר-אבא, Bar-abbâ, "son of the father")

One of Jesus' titles may have been "Son of the Father" because of his custom of addressing God as Father in prayer. In a handful of our 5000 surviving Greek manuscripts Barabbas also is referred to as Jesus Barabbas. So now we have two prisoners of Rome BOTH called Jesus Barabbas (Jesus 'Son of the Father'). So which one does the crowd call to be released? Jesus Barabbas!

The theory is that the people truly wanted Jesus of Nazareth released and that Barabbas was just a fictional character used as literary tool to place the blame of Jesus' death on the Jews. Did Barabbas the criminal ever exist? We may never know but at least Jesus, our model of humility, love, and compassion forgave the world during his last moments on Earth.

Luke 23:34 (NIV) "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

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