Sunday night, after my son left, I sat down to watch the Passion of the Christ. And it had its unwavering effect on me. I wept, unable to grasp all that took place at that time, and all that it means for us. For me.
But this time, the images that were hardest for me to shake were those of Jesus and Barabbas standing before Pilate.
Pilate is desperately trying to free Jesus, frightened and only partially aware of the precipice that lays before him, and of all that will be unleashed upon the Universe as a result of his actions.
This story has been a “splinter in my mind” since I was a teen. There is Barabbas, his name literally means “Daddy’s son”, set free. Ancient scholars say his full name was Jesus Barabbas, Jesus son of the Father. How ironic. But this is no coincidence, God is not careless in the details of our stories. How much more would He attend to the most minute detail of this one? There must be something important in this for us.
Here is an innocent man, Jesus, condemned to die in the place of one who actually deserves it, and who bears the very name that describes Jesus himself! I don’t think I am alone is seeing the epic foreshadowing in this. Was God being a bit sadistic, or is this one of those punctuation marks along Jesus’ spiritual walk that says “you are absolutely in the right place, you can see it now, rest in Me.” I choose to think it’s the latter, and at the same time much more. At one point during the scene Jesus looks into the eyes of Barabbas, as if to say “this doesn’t seem fair, you don’t understand what is happening, but all is as it should be.” And for a moment, Barabbas almost seems to get it, is nearly overtaken by something he can’t quite comprehend. But seconds later, he’s shaken it off and is jumping and shouting his way down the stone stairway, stunned at his incredible good fortune. He didn’t seem to have a clue. He probably went out and tied one on in celebration.
But in that brief encounter, the Father so deftly retold the story. Simply, clearly, unmistakably. The Gospel in a nutshell. If the whole of the New Testament had been lost to us, and just this one story left, we would be drawn to it. We would turn it around in our hands, looking at the light breaking from it like rainbows, hearing something greater in it and asking ourselves what it meant.
It looks very clear to me, right now. For we are Barabbas, Daddy’s filthy son, in prison clothes, condemned to death. And the perfect Son of the Father took our place, and has looked into our eyes, and says “no, this doesn’t seem fair, you don’t understand what is happening, but all is as it should be.”
I wonder if Barabbas ever understood what really took place that day. Jesus was in the perfect time and place, so that even this criminals name helped to remind Him of who He was, reminds us of who we were, and are destined to be. It’s hard for me to look at myself, and say I am “The Fathers Beloved Son”. I am Daddy’s greatly loved child.
But the older I get, the more I realize how immense the Love of God is. And how much I don’t deserve it, and how much He knew all of that in advance. I’m reading Brennan Manning’s “All is Grace”, and am beginning to understand what he is driving at. It is this overwhelming, pursuing Love.
When I am honest, I know that I am the “other” Son of The Father. The grimy one who’s been given a name he can’t possibly live up to.
And who, because of that, has been set free.
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