The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What's in a Name?

The year is AD 33. Standing at the top of the praetorium steps before Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judea, stands Jesus. He has been arrested for his activity in the area, and he can tell the crowd is restless. Pilate looks worried. The Roman soldiers appear a bit on edge, ready to quell any riot that might break out. Suddenly Pilate speaks to the crowd,

"I find no crime in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?"

The crowd shout his name, and to his delight and surprise, the Roman soldiers suddenly release him. He never saw this coming. He is free, and his crimes are forgiven. The Jews cheer and the Sanhedrin, whom he never had much use for look very pleased indeed.

Is this a rewriting of the Gospel by some gnostic historian or anti-Catholic writer such as Dan Brown? No, the above is a true story.

For this Jesus who stood before Pilate was not the Christ, but rather a leader of the rebellion against the Roman occupation. His full name was Jesus Barab'bas. As Pope Benedict writes in his recent book Jesus of Nazareth, Barab'bas means "Son of the father," and up until the early 300's, his full name was used in the Greek translations. Later the translators dropped his first name and he simply became known as Barab'bas. He was not just some ordinary common criminal or a crazed psychopath as he sometimes gets portrayed in Hollywood. The Jewish people knew him. Many likely supported his cause as he promised them a way out from under Rome's heavy hand.

Barab'bas served a very clear purpose in the event that was Christ's passion. For the first time, at a critical moment, the Jewish people had a chance to choose between man or God, both in the flesh. The rebel promised salvation for the Jewish people through the forces of violence and war. The Christ called for a complete self-donation, which in many of the people's minds must have sounded like complete surrender to Caesar.

"...will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?"

For the Jew, the question was do your trust in man or trust in God? And just as in the time of Moses, when they had the choice of choosing God's word over the invented golden calf, they chose that which they could create over that which God had already created.

Everyday, man has this scene reenacted in the choices that define the human experience. Barab'bas has a new face, today. He comes in the form of exultant science and the religion of humanism with its gospel of relativism. Christ stands alone in this world save for a few loyal disciples and His mother who continue to brave the crowd. He stands before humanity with His same offer of redemption based in faith, hope, and love. And the response he receives from a self-reliant, stiff-necked, hardened-heart people is:

"Crucify him! Crucify him!"

No one really knows what became of Barab'bas. He never managed to overthrow the Romans. God used him for His purpose and the rebel disappeared from history. Yet Christ endures. Through the travails of the ages, many have come in his place and ultimately failed as he did, and still this Jesus of Nazareth continues to soften hearts and change lives and bring people to His father.

"...will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?"

Let all of mankind have the courage to answer Pilate with a resounding "Yes!"


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