As we continue on our Lenten journey, examining the Passion of Christ through different perspectives, we will spend this week considering the events through the eyes of Barabbas and the crowd that called for his release.
The editors of the Catholic Bible Dictionary rightly found Barabbas a significant enough character to create an entry on him, which provides an excellent summary of who he was:
Barabbas: A notorious robber, revolutionary, and murderer mentioned in all four Gospels. When Pilate, following custom, offered to release one prisoner on the feast of the Passover, the people chose Barabbas, whose name ironically translates from Aramaic as “son of the father”, over Christ, the Son of the Father (Matt 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:17-25; John 18:39-40). Barabbas is described as a rebel “who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19), a “notorious prisoner” (Matt 27:16), and a “robber” (John 18:40). Pilate had hoped to secure the release of Jesus through the custom, but the chief priest and elders persuaded the crowd to choose Barabbas instead (Matt 27:20; Mark 15:11). The name Barabbas does not appear anywhere else in the New Testament.
Simply put, Barabbas was not a good guy.
We cannot ignore the significance of what the name Barabbas means. In Aramaic, bar means son and abba means father. When the crowd calls for the release of Barabbas over Jesus, they are quite literally choosing the son of an earthly father over the Son of the Heavenly Father. If we place ourselves in the shoes of a person in the crowd, we must examine the ways in which we choose earthly goods over heavenly goods, thereby releasing Barabbas and calling out for Jesus to be crucified. Of course, we do not want to believe that we would be the ones saying, “crucify him!” – but consider for a moment what you are choosing when you choose your own will, or the will of the world/society, over the will of God the Father. No, we are not literally calling out for Christ’s crucifixion, nor are we literally hammering a nail into His limb, nevertheless, we communicate to our heavenly Father, with each sin, that we choose something else over Him – namely, Barabbas.
The Catechism reinforces this idea saying:
We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, ‘None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’ We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him. (CCC #598)
At the time of the crucifixion, the crowd did not know better, because if they knew who He really was, they would not have cried out for His execution. What this Catechism passage is essentially saying is that since we profess to know Jesus Christ as the Son of God, our sins are more violent to our Lord than the cries of the crowd. This is a very hard pill to swallow for most of us because none of us wants to think of ourselves this way, nonetheless, it is a humbling reality. Does seeing how your sins make you as complicit as those in the crowd motivate you to do better?
Now, let’s put ourselves in the place of Barabbas. I know that the vast majority of people reading this are not murderers, thieves, or otherwise violent criminals worthy of execution, however, every single one of us has dark places inside of us with which we struggle. It is simply within our human nature. We have the most kind and merciful heavenly Father who absolves us of our sins (when we repent and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation) and who wants to give us a second chance to be free from them. What do we do with that absolution and second chance? Scripture does not tell us what Barabbas went on to do, but we do know, through no act of his own, that he narrowly escaped death on a cross. What do you think Barabbas did, but more importantly, what do you think you would have done if you were him? We can only speculate. Ideally, Barabbas would have been grateful for his newly found freedom and, having looked death in the eye over his sins, would have taken a new lease on life to avoid that situation ever again. This is the opportunity we have ourselves every time we go to Confession and receive absolution from our sins. The second we walk out of the confessional, we are not only free from the bondage of our sin, but we are filled with the sacramental grace of God that empowers us to go forth and do better. I wonder if, in that moment, Barabbas turned to look at the man who took his place and had his eyes opened to the reality of who that man was. We will never know this side of heaven, but we can try our best to do what Barabbas ought to have done. The next time you go to Confession, perhaps you can attend Adoration immediately afterward and gaze upon the Son of God who willingly took your place. Then, wholeheartedly thank him and promise to try and not make His sacrifice for you be in vain.
In my personal opinion, as we’ve journeyed through this Lenten series, these two particular perspectives have been the most difficult thus far, as they cause us to look at the ugliest parts of ourselves and examine their very real effects. But sometimes we have to do that to make real progress. However, I do not want to leave you discouraged or in despair. None of this is insurmountable with the help of our good and gracious God. He does not desire for us to be an unrepentant member of the crowd, nor does He want for us to be a Barabbas and go back to our old ways. He deeply desires for each of us to accept the loving gift His Son, Jesus, gave to us by willingly allowing Himself to be sacrificed for us, so that we may return our own gift of love back to Him. This week, consider ways in which you can pull yourself out of the midst of the crowd and set yourself apart, sacrificing your choices of the world, in order to please your heavenly Father.