Two weeks ago we looked at Jesus’ predictions concerning his upcoming crucifixion, and last Sunday we studied his taking the Passover meal and reinterpreting it for the apostles (and for the church). Tomorrow we’re going to reflect on a part of one of his trials that began early on that fateful Friday morning.
The religious leaders had brought him before Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, whose primary goal was to keep the locals peaceful and relatively happy so that his somewhat shaky political position wouldn’t be endangered by reports of unrest. Recognizing that Jesus had been brought to him because of envy among the religious elites, he thought that he might release Jesus–whom he knew to be innocent–according a custom where he released a prisoner of the people’s choice during the weekend of Passover.
He had in custody an insurrectionist named Barabbas, and he thought the people would want this violent man to remain in prison, but he misjudged them. When he asked them if they wanted Barabbas or Jesus to be freed, they asked for Barabbas.
There’s an interesting spiritual point here. Pilate’s question, “Which of the two do you want?”, can be read as the kind of question that we all must answer. Do you want Barabbas, the one who offers the best short-term outcome? After all, Barabbas probably had as his goal the liberation of the Jewish people from Roman oppression–something that was very important to them.
Or do you want Jesus, the one whose counter-intuitive kingdom ethic would likely bring about short-term struggle?
Which one do you want? Do you want the one who does what you want or the one who does what you need? Do you want the strong-and-powerful Barabbas or the meek-and-mild Jesus? Do you want the one who leads guerrilla warfare, or the one who washes feet?
Which do you want? That’s what Pilate asked the people, and in a way it’s what we’re being asked today.