This week, with my feverish excuse in the rear view mirror, I nonetheless return to my Lenten companion, poet, and prophet Walter Wangerin. In his twenty third day devotion he drops us into the Good Friday moment when Pontius Pilate offers the people an apparently benevolent, yet politically motivated, gift: they may choose one prisoner – Barabbas (“who had committed murder during the insurrection”, Mk. 15:7) or Jesus – to be spared the gruesome death penalty.
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 “turn 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 the are.
Behold a people in desperate need of forgiveness.
At each and every juncture in our journey, may we remember the lesson of Barabbas: how we choose is who we are.