Mark 15: 1-15
Adam Hamilton, in the book that we are following this Lent, seems to have a lot of background about who Barabbas is. He says that Barabbas, a leader of an insurrection, is brought into Jerusalem just like Jesus was, with the waving of palm branches, and the shouting of Hosanna, which means “save us.” Hamilton also states that the palm branch waving tradition goes back 190 years from that period, back to the Maccabees being brought into Jerusalem after defeating the Seleucids. All leaders, Hamilton seems to claim, are bought into the city with the waving of branches and the shouting of Hosanna.
So if Hamilton is correct, then Jesus being brought into Jerusalem as a conquering hero, donkey or not, it may not have even been the only time that had happened that week! Barabbas was the other.
It’s important to remember here, that what people expected to see as the Messiah, was not what Jesus was. It is true, certainly that the chief priests incited the crowd to call for Barabbas over Jesus. But it was not as hard a job as we might think, with hindsight of 2000 years. Barabbas, as a military leader, a soldier, was closer to what the people had been expecting a Messiah to look like, to do. They expected a military leader who would throw off the yoke of oppression, dismiss the Roman Empire, and there would again be self-rule in Judea. Definitely a better fit than Jesus would have provided.
It got me to thinking. When there is a chance for a change, a huge change, a sea change, a way in which culture works differently with the assent of almost everyone, we default into the belief that such changes can be done with force of arms. I don’t think that this is what Christ teachers, I don’t think this is what Christians should believe.
The example Hamilton gives is the difference between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Not necessarily religious differences, thought they were not of the same religion; more, the techniques they advocated to bring about change in American society.
They were advocating for the same sort of change, the full inclusion of all Americans. Their styles were different, though; Malcom X advocated forcing change “by any means necessary”, which included violence. Martin Luther King, however, influenced by Ghandi and Jesus, advocate change by nonviolent means.
In our society, today, we have more change that has been affected by nonviolent means than by violent. More change has happened because of the changing of hearts than by the taking up of arms. Yes, even in the nonviolent movement, people died. But the shock of their dying, unarmed, had the reverse effect occur than those who did the shooting expected. Public sentiment swung away from the ugliness, and toward the beauty of sacrifice.
The lesson here, in our own history as well as in Biblical history, is that change almost ever comes through force of arms. It always seems to come in more substantial and important ways through nonviolence. Even in our own Revolution, we could never of fully defeated the British on our own. The war only truly ended as soon as it did because the British could no longer afford to keep this theater open with a rising French threat worldwide. So they cut their losses here; our independence was cheaper, in the end, than fighting a world war with France.
Force of arms never changes things. The way to change the world is to act on your beliefs, and to live your life in such a way that it is apparent what you believe.
The crowd was scared by what Jesus presented. “What do you mean, turn the other cheek, and that will eventually drive out the Romans?” Barabbas presented a more comfortable and familiar form of resistance, a form that allowed for violence and anger and war.
We are in our churches, this morning, because we believed in the other guy. We don’t believe in force of arms. However you may want to argue about self-protection and “the castle doctrine” and whatever else we hear in our news these days, we are here because we chose the guy who died. This has implications for us as actors in our own society that we chose the loser. We chose the actual son of God, not the “sword” of God.
How does that change the way you see the world? How does that change the way you see our society and how it should work? How does it change your everyday life?
These are your questions to answer.
I pray that my words have been the Lord’s intention this day, AMEN.
Preached at Throop UMC, 3/10/13