Each year I look for ways to observe Lent in a more robust manner than simply “giving something up.” This year I am using Walter Wangerin’s Lenten meditations from Reliving the Passion, gleanings from the Gospel of Mark. Wangerin does an amazing job of bringing to life the all-too familiar story of Jesus’ Passion. In bringing it to life, he helps the reader crawl into the story, experiencing the passion and Jesus in new ways.
So, I want to share one of the daily meditations that I found particularly engaging…
Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do for them. And he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. (Mark 15:6-11)
Behold the people! Though they think themselves the force of the morning, in charge of things (by virtue of their numbers and their noise), they are in fact being put to a test which shall reveal the truth beneath their words, the reality beneath their self-assumptions and all their pretense.
Behold the nature of the breed!
A crowd has gathered at the Praetorium, a rabble, an obstreperous delegation of Judeans whose presence complicates Pilate’s inclination to release Jesus. These crowds are volatile. Instead of a simple release, then, a choice is offered the people. Let the people feel in charge; let the people decide. The Governor will, according to a traditional Passover amnesty, free one prisoner. Which will it be— Jesus of Nazareth?—whom they have falsely accused of treason against the Empire? Or Barabbas?—treasonous in fact, one who committed murder for the cause?
If they choose the latter, their loyalties to the Empire (which Jesus is supposed to have offended) are revealed a vile sham, and these are no more than temporizing hypocrites, pretending any virtue to satisfy a private end. But the Governor will release only one prisoner. Which will it be?
Jesus—who is the Son of the Father, who is the Kingdom of God come near unto them?
Or Barabbas—whose name means “the son of a (human) father,” flesh itself, the fleshly pretensions to god-like, personal power in the kingdoms of the world?
This, precisely, is the timeless choice of humankind. If they choose the latter, they choose humanity over divinity. They choose one who will harm them over one who would heal them.
If they choose Barabbas, they choose the popular revolutionary hero, the swashbuckler, the pirate, merry Robin Hood, the blood-lusty rake, the law-flout, violence glorified, appetites satisfied, James Bond, Billy Jack, Clint Eastwood, Rambo, the celebrated predator, the one who “turns them on,” over one who asks them to “deny themselves and die.” They choose (voluntarily!) entertainment over worship, self-satisfaction over sacrificial love, getting things over giving things, being served over serving, “feeling good about myself” and having it all and gaining the whole world and rubbing elbows with the rich rather than rubbing the wounds of the poor—
The choice is before them. And they think the choice is external, this man or that man. In fact, the choice is terribly internal: this nature or that one, good folks or people essentially selfish and evil, therefore. It’s an accurate test of their character. How they choose is who they are.
Behold a people in desperate need of forgiveness.
And this, Christ, is the stunning irony: that their evil was made good in you! You knew our nature as children of wrath; you knew exactly how we would choose; you put yourself in harm’s way that our sin might kill you, that your death might redeem us even from our sinful nature! Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, and I grow dizzy thinking about it. All that I can say with certainty, but with everlasting gratitude, is — Amen.
Wangerin, W. (1992). Reliving the passion: Meditations on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus as recorded in Mark. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House., The 24th day.