Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 14, 2010

2010.03.14 “24 Hours That Changed the World: Jesus, Barabbas, and Pilate”

Central United Methodist Church

“24 Hours That Changed the World:

Jesus, Barabbas, and Pilate”

Pastor David L. Haley

Luke 23: 1 – 25

March 14th, 2010

“Then they all took Jesus to Pilate and began to bring up charges against him. They said, “We found this man undermining our law and order, forbidding taxes to be paid to Caesar, setting himself up as Messiah-King.”

Pilate asked him, “Is this true that you’re ‘King of the Jews’?”

“Those are your words, not mine,” Jesus replied.

Pilate told the high priests and the accompanying crowd, “I find nothing wrong here. He seems harmless enough to me.”

But they were vehement. “He’s stirring up unrest among the people with his teaching, disturbing the peace everywhere, starting in Galilee and now all through Judea. He’s a dangerous man, endangering the peace.”

When Pilate heard that, he asked, “So, he’s a Galilean?” Realizing that he properly came under Herod’s jurisdiction, he passed the buck to Herod, who just happened to be in Jerusalem for a few days.

Herod was delighted when Jesus showed up. He had wanted for a long time to see him, he’d heard so much about him. He hoped to see him do something spectacular. He peppered him with questions. Jesus didn’t answer — not one word. But the high priests and religion scholars were right there, saying their piece, strident and shrill in their accusations.

Mightily offended, Herod turned on Jesus. His soldiers joined in, taunting and jeering. Then they dressed him up in an elaborate king costume and sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became thick as thieves. Always before they had kept their distance.

Then Pilate called in the high priests, rulers, and the others and said, “You brought this man to me as a disturber of the peace. I examined him in front of all of you and found there was nothing to your charge. And neither did Herod, for he has sent him back here with a clean bill of health. It’s clear that he’s done nothing wrong, let alone anything deserving death. I’m going to warn him to watch his step and let him go.”

At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.

But they kept shouting back, “Crucify! Crucify him!”

He tried a third time. “But for what crime? I’ve found nothing in him deserving death. I’m going to warn him to watch his step and let him go.”

But they kept at it, a shouting mob, demanding that he be crucified. And finally they shouted him down. Pilate caved in and gave them what they wanted. He released the man thrown in prison for rioting and murder, and gave them Jesus to do whatever they wanted.”– Luke 23: 1 – 25, The Message

We continue our journey today with Jesus through the last 24 hours of his life, beginning to walk with him the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering, the way of the cross.

Last week we saw how in the early morning hours of Friday, Jesus was condemned to death by the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, for blasphemy.

But there’s a problem. Lacking the power of capital punishment, they now need to send Jesus off to one who has that power, the Roman governor, a man whose name – some 2,000 years later, we still all know, Pontius Pilate. 

Via DVD, let’s go with Pastor Adam Hamilton of Church of the Resurrection, to begin that journey.  [Show DVD]

By the way, Good Friday, beginning at 6 pm, we will walk the Stations of the Cross, the traditional version.  I invite you to attend.

The question Adam Hamilton asked, is:  Where do you see yourself in this story?

Adam Hamilton listed 3 possibilities; I find 4. See if you agree.

The first three possibilities are obvious: Pilate, the crowd, or Barabbas.

Not many of us, I would guess, would identify with a Roman governor.  (Except, that, as Americans, like the Romans, we now have our own troublesome empire to run.) Pilate was the representative of Rome, far from Rome, in a most troublesome outpost of the Roman empire. His success was dependent upon keeping the peace, and at that, like most Romans, he was ruthless.

The Gospels, however, portray Pilate as a man, who upon questioning Jesus, was not convinced that Jesus was a threat to anybody, certainly not the aspiring King the Jewish leaders portrayed. When Pilate asks Jesus, the Jewish peasant, beaten, bloodied, and bound, standing powerless before him, “Are YOU the King of the Jews,” we should probably hear a mocking emphasis upon the word YOU.” Just as we should hear a similarly mocking tone in Jesus’ response: “So YOU say.”

The Gospels portray Pilate as inclined to let Jesus go.  In a generous offer, Pilate offers to release a prisoner, giving the gathered crowd the choice of which one:  Jesus or Barabbas? 

Who was this Barabbas? As Adam Hamilton has explained, Barabbas was what we would now label a “terrorist.”  Barabbas believed in getting rid of the Romans by force and violence, and had spilled blood to that end.  Barabbas was the kind of guy the Romans loved to crucify.  If there was a choice between Barabbas and Jesus, it was Barabbas who deserved to die.

I can identify with Barabbas.  Growing up in the 1950’s, my heroes were cowboys and soldiers.  When I watched those WWII films, and the Nazis were winning, I imagined if only I were there, with a sniper rifle, a machine gun, I’d be like John Wayne, and the bad guys would lose.  Barabbas was such a guy.  In other times, we might call Barabbas a rebel, a revolutionary, even a patriot. So I can sympathize with Barabbas as somebody who tried to actually do something about the oppression and injustice they suffered under the Romans. 

Barabbas: the way of force and violence?  Jesus: the way of non-violence and sacrificial love.  Which will we choose?  Adam Hamilton is right; when we have the choice, we almost always choose Barabbas.

In his book, Adam Hamilton compares the choice between Jesus and Barabbas with one in our recent history, that of the difference between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Both leaders wanted justice and equal rights for people of color, but their approaches differed radically. Malcolm X believed the injustice was so serious that violence was sometimes justified in overcoming it.  Dr. King, on the other hand, influenced by the non-violent methods of Mahatma Gandhi, believe that human rights and equality come only by changing people’s hearts through nonviolent resistance and sacrificial love. While both contributed greatly to the cause of civil rights, I personally think it was Dr. King who did the most, after such a long struggle, to change our nation. 

        And the crowd? Who were they? Like some nebulous Greek chorus, the text doesn’t specify.  Maybe they were the merchants whose tables Jesus had overthrown in the temple.  Maybe they were those who disagreed with Jesus violation of the holiness code. Maybe they were activists like Barabbas who couldn’t stomach Jesus’ advice to “love your enemies and do good to those who mistreat you.”  Maybe they were just a temple “hangers-on”, sensing the taste of blood, like gawkers at a car crash.  Were any of Jesus’ disciples among them? Can we see ourselves among them?

A mob – almost any mob – is a nasty thing.  People, in mobs, act in ways individuals never would.  Do you really think, if you had been there, you would have had the courage to yell Jesus name?  If you were living in Hitler’s Europe, or Joseph McCarthy’s America, or amidst a lynch mob in the south, would you have stood up for those wrongly accused? Have you ever failed to stand up for a classmate or coworker or friend, being unfairly bullied by others?  It takes a lot of courage to go against the crowd.

        What worries me is that today the crowd has gone electronic. The internet and other forms of mass communication and social networking have elevated the voice of the crowd to something that can’t be rationally challenged, an echo chamber of mistruth, anger, and hatred.

        It reminds me of what philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard said, that the crowd is almost always inherent “untruth:” His challenge to all Christians, indeed to all who seek to live as an “individual,” is that as we finally stand before God as individuals, we must therefore live as individuals, which sometimes means disdaining the voice of the crowd, herd mentality. As our mothers and fathers put it, “If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?”  Beware the herd mentality.  So, yes, sadly we can see ourselves among the crowd.

        Finally, even Pilate caved. Though he knew better, though – according to Matthew, his wife Procula advised him to have nothing to do with this innocent man, though he literally washed his hands in absolution, Pilate caved to those who yelled the loudest, and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

What historical irony it is that the name of Pilate, who would never have rated a footnote in history, who thought he absolved himself of his sin, is recalled daily around the world in the words of the Apostle’s Creed: Jesus, “who suffered under Pontius Pilate.”  Shakespeare was right when we said that though “the good we do is oft interred with our bones, the evil that we do lives after us.”

There is, of course, one final person with whom we might identify in this story. That is Jesus.  Sometimes, it is possible to be innocent, be wrongly accused, and stand convicted.  Sometimes, it is possible to stand up for what’s right, but be nailed to a cross for it.

Let me – let many of us – acknowledge, that while we may fear that even in our system of justice, the one with the most expensive lawyer wins, we still speak with the voice of mostly white, North American, privilege.

So though we may empathize, we can hardly imagine what it was like to come to this country as a immigrant, or grow up in the last century in this country as a person of color.  Many of you know this.  From what you silently suffered, Jesus may have more meaning to you as one “who never said a mumbalin’ word.”

Though we may empathize, we can hardly imagine what it would be like to live in any of the countries of the world where law and authority are suspect, places where ordinary people live in fear of masked men snatching you or members of your family out of your bed at night, to become one of the “los desaparecidos,” – the “disappeared” – as they call it in South America. 

So it is no wonder that the appeal of this story of Jesus, throughout history and for many people living in the world today, is that they can identify with and pray to Jesus, who though the Son of God, was himself the victim of torture and injustice.  No wonder the crucifix – with Jesus on the cross – has been and remains one of the most powerful religious symbols throughout history.

We began this episode with several possible options: that Pilate might see through the plot and free Jesus; that, instead of the prisoner Barabbas, Jesus might be released. Now, at the end, only one option remains.  Jesus is going to be crucified.


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