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I am Barabbas
Today is the day of Preparation for Passover and usually there is joyful commotion on the streets of Jerusalem in anticipation for the festivities. But this morning is different. This morning the pulse outside my cell is restless, anxious, pent-up evil. Why are the Jews riled up so early this morning? I hear them shouting, chanting perhaps, but can’t quite recognize their strong words.
Suddenly, my door is thrown open and in the early morning light I am grabbed roughly. Is today the day of death? My punishment? How odd for this to happen right before Passover—usually the Romans want to avoid upsetting the Jews around their feasts. I thought I was ready for this moment—but how can one be ready. Renewed hatred for these Romans stirs within my soul. If only I could throw off controlling hands and make my revenge, my victory.
I am dragged to a palace and pushed before a crowd of angry men. Ah, this was the evil hum I heard earlier; this crowd is pulsing with intent. Their chants grow louder as another man is brought to stand beside me. Except I hardly can believe he is still standing—his flesh is torn, dripping blood, long thorns digging deep into his scull.
Around us discussion swirls between Roman Pilate and Jewish chief priests. “I see no basis for a charge.” . . . “Crucify him!” I can’t keep my eyes off of this man. Despite the flogging, he still seems calm, regal, even in control. I realize I am holding my breath, waiting to hear his name: Who is he? Why was I brought here to stand beside him?
Familiar charges pierce through the noise: insurrection, subversion, claiming to be the leader of the Jews—this man’s crimes sound similar to mine. Are we to be crucified together? It seems Pilate is confused about the truth of the accusations. Do I see fear in Pilate’s eyes, deep uncertainty in a man hardened by war? A battle of wills (and worlds) continues—the crowd is determined to hate this man. Pilate asks: “Why? What crime has he committed? He has done nothing to deserve death.” With one voice they respond: “Crucify him! Away with this man!”
I am steeling myself against feelings of fear and dread of the coming torture, when I hear Pilate say: “But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” Men shout back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” This is why I am here! His life or mine. Today one of us will be killed; the other set free. I am guilty; is he? His face is set like stone—determined, yet still a soft hint of compassion around the eyes. As the crowd chants louder and louder, “Crucify him!” he turns to look at me and I see love?
Events move in a haze: Pilate washes his hands at the judge’s seat. Soldiers mock and spit. Someone adjusts the ropes on my wrists . . . no, wait, they are loosening them. Releasing me. After all these years, my chains are gone. But that man. Where is he? The mob is pulsing and pushing. I am shoved aside as they surge forward. Cross beams jut above the crowd as the prisoners move toward the Hill, the place where traitors are crucified. By an inner force of curiosity and self-loathing, I follow the man.
There at Golgotha, I watch them crucify him. Hammering spikes into flesh—nails that should have been in my wrists and feet. A cross raised up in humiliating torture—the very cross meant for me. As he is lifted up, I see posted on the sign above his head, the place where crimes are listed: “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.” I want to run in shame, but my feet are stuck here in the dirt in gratitude, watching him groan in agony. Jesus, the King, dying the death deserved by me.
And so I see myself in him—the guilty set free; the Innocent sacrificed.
I am Barabbas. Barabbas is me.