Some choices are easy.
Salad or ice cream? Fajitas or anything? All expenses paid vacation or work?
Other choices are hard.
Move or stay? Keep going or give up? Take a risk or play it safe?
Whether easy or hard, the choices we make often reveal who we are and what we value (In my case: ice cream, fajitas, and trips to the shore).
In the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus we encounter a pivotal moment. There is a choice to be made.
Scripture tells us it was customary to release one prisoner in honor of the Jewish Passover. This generosity was intended to pacify the large crowds gathered in celebration.
This year the governor gives them a choice: a man who stands accused as a murderous revolutionary or one who is accused of blasphemy.
The supposed blasphemer is the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth, also called the Son of God. The revolutionary is named Jesus Barabbas, which literally means Jesus, Son of the Father.
The crowd gets to pick their Jesus. To decide which son they prefer: the mercenary or the Messiah.
They make their choice.
Jesus of Nazareth will be beaten and executed. The people want Barabbas.
And us, all these years later, we (still) want Barabbas.
When given the choice between the mercenary and the Messiah we often choose the wrong Jesus. We may say all the right things and claim the right beliefs and have the right bumper stickers, but the way we do politics and conflict and church and relationships and whatever else reveals who we have really chosen.
We still want the violent insurgent.
We, like the crowd that day, have little patience for the slow Kingdom coming.
We want movers and shakers. Those who get things done.
Those who cause our enemies to tremble.
We have no time for a Kingdom that is like a mustard seed, small and slow and making its way little by little. We prefer kingdoms of tanks and trains: get on board or get run over.
We want to be first, not last. To be catered to, not to serve.
We want conquerors on stallions, not peacemakers on donkeys.
We want people to pay. To get what they deserve.
We have little use for mercy. And no use for meekness.
We want brash and bold and big.
We still want Barabbas.
Sure he is a edgy. And sure he has a shady past. And questionable morals. But he is with us. He fights for our rights. It’s not like we want him to be a priest or anything.
We know where he stands and he says it like it is.
Give us Jesus, the mercenary one.
We want the Jesus who will rid us of our foes. Who isn’t afraid to throw some elbows and shed some blood.
We want power. We want to call the shots. We want to be sit where Caesar sits because we are convinced Caesar’s way is the only way.
The other Jesus? He prays for his enemies. Instructs his followers to love them even. He tells us to control our tongue and not to insult others. He says to care for the poor and sick and he hangs out with people who have no clout in society. He says the way up is down. He says not to repay evil with evil. He washes other people’s feet. He lets people spit on him.
This isn’t how we win.
Give us Barabbas.
We’d rather fight alongside the scoundrels than be crucified with the holy.
It is pretty clear which Jesus we choose most often. And what things we value and who we really are. And the truth is not pretty.
Too often I am more a Barabbas-ian than a Christ-ian.
Too often the choices I make look more like the kingdoms of this world than the Kingdom of God. Too often I can’t even imagine any other way of doing things.
I want mine. I want it now. End of story.
The way of Jesus Barabbas feels quicker. It looks sexier. It looks like it is working for the other side.
But this is the not the way. When it comes to what matters most, shortcuts only lead to dead ends.
This is not the Jesus that leads to life.
The other Jesus, the one from Nazareth, will show us the way. He will invite us lay down our swords and to lay down our lives. He will invite us to trust, to have faith that this is the way to lasting victory. He will demonstrate a love that has the power to change lives and hearts and worlds.
And when this way and this Jesus look completely defeated and hopeless. When it is stripped naked and beaten and gasps one final breath. When this way is laid in a grave and left to rot.
We will learn that this way is just getting started.
May we have the patience to avoid the shortcuts. May we have the ability to imagine a better way and a better Kingdom. May we choose the right Jesus. And may we find life now and forever and abundant. Amen.
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