rabid insurrectionist | John 18.38-40
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. John 18:38-40 | ESV
Pilate stepped back outside to the awaiting council members, telling them curtly, “I can’t lay one single charge at this man’s feet. So, look, it’s your custom during Passover to release a single prisoner. What do you say I release to you this ‘King of the Jews’”? But they roared back at him yet again, “No! Not him, but Barabbas (‘son of the father’)!” And Barabbas? Well, he was a thieving, rabid insurrectionist.
MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
If, in fact, this is the voice of the people asking for Barabbas over Jesus, it’s clearly not democracy’s finest hour. Even the jaded politician sees more clearly.
Barabbas. “Son of the father.”
What a delicious irony.
But this “son of the father” was no Jesus – he was a lestes (lay-stace). It’s hard to capture the derision with which John spits out that word. John had used a related word for Judas when he told of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet in Bethany. There he said Judas was a kleptes (clep-tace). A kleptes is someone who steals in stealth. “Nobody robs a bank with everyone watching” says the Proverb. That’s kleptes work. Pickpocket. Slip in, slip out, no one gets hurt.
The lestes blows up the bank. Preferably when it’s full of people – because it’s not just about the money, the stuff. It’s about power, control, fear. The Roman word for such was sicarri – dagger men, the “slicers” – from the word sicae or “dagger” that zealot “patriots” would carry under their cloaks to murder political opponents at close range and then blend back into crowd.
We would call them assassins.
And two of them hung on each side of Jesus before this day was done. We often observe that Barabbas is merely standing in for us in this scene. And it’s a fair cop, isn’t it? We might try to con ourselves and each other that we really are some of the nicest people, after all, but each of us must own Barabbas. Yes, our face is here too. Which is what makes Paul’s celebration of Divine love in Romans 5 such breathtakingly good news:
He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.
Imagine that. Inspired to selfless sacrifice.
By a rapid insurrectionist like me, like you.
Meditate on Romans 5:6-8. How much energy do you spend trying to be worthy of his love, his sacrifice, rather than embracing your own unworthiness? What’s the key to giving up trying to be “worthy”?
Lord, let me not hide my face from nor foolishly try to layer religious make-up on my own wretchedness, my own inner “rabid insurrectionist.” Let me see in this very wretchedness the ground zero of your grace that changes all, that changes me. Through Jesus.