Meditation – Lent 5 – March 18, 2018
1Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. 4Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” 7The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
8Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9He entered his headquarters£ again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
13When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat£ on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew£ Gabbatha. 14Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 15They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” 16Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
I think that in many ways we find ourselves in a really strange place today. We have the wonder and joy of baptism as we celebrate, with a visible sign, that bountiful invisible grace which God gives to each one of us and is symbolized by water and the baptism of Evie today. On the other hand we are faced with a reading today, as we journey to the cross, that is just the opposite of the joy, peace, and innocence of a young child.
As I was preparing to write this meditation I was thinking about what I might use as a pop culture reference and I thought about movies that were about violence and I realized something important. I really struggle to watch movies that show deep levels of violence. I remember watching Tears of the Sun with Bruce Willis and although I think it is a great movie there is a scene that shows a deep level of violence perpetrated on innocent people. Even The Passion of the Christ is a movie that I cannot watch because of its level of violence. I think that in some ways that is what we are approaching as we journey along on this last week of Jesus’ life. We are coming to a place where many would prefer to just not engage with this story because many of us would prefer not to look at the violence that is coming and we just want to get to the feel-good day of Easter Sunday. But if we were to do that, I think that we might miss something very important.
I did, however, find a story that speaks to today. It is the movie Defiance, starring Danial Craig. On the run and hiding in the deep forests of the then German occupied Poland and Belorussia (World War II), the four Bielski brothers find the impossible task of foraging for food and weapons for their survival. They live, not only with the fear of discovery, contending with neighboring Soviet partisans and knowing whom to trust, but also take the responsibility of looking after a large mass of fleeing Polish Jews from the German war machine. Women, men, children, the elderly and the young alike are all hiding in makeshift homes in the dark, cold and unforgiving forests in the darkest times of German occupied Eastern Europe. As despair and fear threaten to overwhelm those hiding in the forest, violence rises to the surface and threatens to tear the entire group apart. Daniel Craig comes forward with inspiring words of unity and hope for humanity that keeps the people together. Those hiding had a choice to choose violence, or to choose peace and hope.
This is really what our reading is about today. Last week, we heard that Jesus was brought to Pilate and is being put on trial. Those who have come to see this spectacle have only come to call out Jesus for what they perceive he has done, and they have not looked to themselves first. This year during Lent, as we journeyed to the cross, we have looked at those things that bind us and might stop us from truly following Jesus. With the washing of the feet we, ourselves, were challenged to understand that we are being called to break down those barriers that separate us by class, economics, races, and creeds. Then we looked at our own weaknesses, as illustrated in Peter’s denial of Jesus, and how God, even in our weakness, has never abandoned us. Finally, last week we talked about what is truth in a world that is full of different thoughts, opinions, and a world where many feel that truth is objective and that much of what we do hear in the world is “fake.” This week then, on our journey to the cross, we come to another place of decision, a decision that the people in the ancient world had to make, a decision that the characters in the movie Defiance had to make, and a decision that we are called to make almost every day. It is the decision between peace and violence, between acceptance and marginalization, between love and hate.
We need to return to the story that we are closely following this Lent to fully understand what this decision means. I am going to rely here on the resource that our Thursday morning study group is currently in the middle of using to help to explain what is truly behind this decision. John Dominic Crossan illustrates how one of the clearest statements of this “Jesus alternative” is located in the story of the “Passover amnesty.” When considering the details, it’s important to remember that names in the Bible often have meaning lost to those unfamiliar with the Bible’s original languages. For instance, anything with “Beth” in it means “house.” “Beth-el” means “house of God;” Beth-lehem means “house of Bread.” Likewise, anything with “bar” in front of it means “son of.” Bar mitzvah means son of the mitzvah, or “son of the law.” Peter was known as Simon Bar-Jonah. Keeping this in mind, the character names in the Passover amnesty story begin to take on deeper meaning: if “Abba” means father in Hebrew, then “Bar Abbas”means “son of the father.” Barabbas therefore is a patronym, a family name. Add to that the reality that according to some of the earliest Greek texts, Barabbas’ full name was Jesus Barabbas (check the footnotes in your Bible: later texts shorten his name from Jesus Barabbas to just Barabbas), and you’ve got an interesting juxtaposition. Since Jesus used the term Abba to address God, Jesus, too, was the “son of the father.” So what the story now reveals is not one, but TWO Barabbases. In fact we have two Jesus Barabbases! In Hebrew, we have a Yeshua Bar Abbas who’s a violent revolutionary and a Yeshua Bar Abbas who’s a non-violent revolutionary. The question then becomes: which Bar Abbas do you choose? This is the question that we are faced with too. Which Bar Abbas will we choose?
As I said at the very beginning, this is a really strange place today. We witnessed a visible sign of God’s invisible grace when we baptized Evie and now we come to be challenged to make this decision. We live in a world that can be violent, not only in regards to physical violence, but also in some of the ways in which the world treats certain groups of people. We live in a world that uses the violence of marginalization, the violence of racism, the violence of Islamophobia, the violence of economic marginalization, many, many forms of violence. So, when we find that we are faced with these choices, the choice between following the violence of the world or something else, will we continue on living into the love, grace, and acceptance that is epitomized by Evie’s baptism, or will we choose the Bar Abbas that is based in fear and violence? It is a choice that we might each be forced to make in many small ways each day. Are we ready? Will we continue to follow Jesus and choose the Bar Abbas who spoke of love, compassion, mercy, and real justice, not only today, but every day? Amen.