This year, during the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, I was singularly drawn to the words “We want Barabbas!” I began to think about why the people might want a guy like Barabbas over a guy like Jesus. Freeing Barabbas did not make sense on a number of levels and two inconsistencies are particularly glaring.
First, and most obvious, Barabbas was locked up for harming people. Apparently, harming people is not a big deal. Jesus, on the other hand, was locked up for being too good of guy and for using his unique powers to do good for others. He was making claims and doing things to confirm the truth of those claims, but the Jewish leaders at the time happened to not like it. (Note: Good guys always seem to have a hard time, but good guys should learn from Jesus that doing the right thing is ultimately the most thrilling and worthy way to live.)
Secondly, more than simply the quality of character between Jesus and Barabbas, the Jews were even more inconsistent in their arguments. While the Jews would declare they “have no king but Caesar,” they also asked Pilate to free a political radical whose goal was to drive the Romans and Caesar out of Judea. How does that make any sense?
The dichotomy of Barabbas and Jesus even has a deeper meaning when we think about the kind of liberator each of them represented. Barabbas was also a kind of messianic figure. He was more like what most Jews expected from a messiah. He was a political figure that would free Jews from Roman rule and establish a perfect, peaceful, and happy kingdom found in this world. Jesus was a messianic figure that professed that his “kingdom is not of this world.” In a way, the Gospels display a sort of messianic face-off. People have a choice: do I want a paradise of this world or do I want a paradise found in the world that Jesus preaches about?
Ultimately this reflection led me to think of myself. There so many Barabbai in my life. Why am I drawn to poor character qualities in myself and in others? Why am I so inconsistent in my thinking and acting? Why do I choose things that are obviously not good for me or for others, while I leave what is truly good to be left for dead? Why do I want Barabbas? Why do I yearn and long for complete and utter happiness in this life and in this world?
Barabbas personifies the lure of the world. Jesus personifies a more refined love. This love is sometimes hard to recognize especially with the more attached to the world we become. I easily become blinded because I get used to the way the world pleases me. I don’t want to be afraid or sad or lonely or broke or hopeless. The world has all kinds of promises of money, sex, attention, and success that will lead to some kind of ecstatic, unending joy. But ultimately, when pursuing the ways of Barabbas and trying to establish a worldly paradise, I only get filled for time and then emptiness ensues. When I continue to seek happiness in this world, I embark on a perpetual search to consume more.
Jesus wants us to pursue a more fulfilling reality. Experiencing this fulfillment actually requires detachment from some of the empty promises of this world. Sometimes I just want to be free from all sorts of shallow questions: How do I look? What do I own? Does anyone like me? Who do I talk to? Who do I not talk to? How well am I known? How much money do I have? How should I dress? Am I funny enough? Am I smart enough? Am I strong enough? Am I personable enough? Do people respect me? Does anyone love me? All of these questions and more come from a worldly perspective and, if I want happiness, I need to reject these Barrabai and choose a more detached, heavenly way that Jesus demonstrated. With that in mind, here are three brief and simple things to help us become more detached:
1) Focus on the goal of heaven everyday, starting in prayer and extending into the rest of the day
God wants to fill us with Himself. Practicing His presence and getting to know how much He wants to give us, will change our lives. The problem with my life is not that I desire too many things. Rather, I don’t desire enough. My desires fall short and my eyes land on worldly things. If I desired more, I’d desire God’s love more purely. Finite things can only fill me so much, I need to stop searching for them to fill my infinite desire for love that only He can fill. No car, bar, house, or spouse can completely make me happy in the way I desire, only God can. Ultimately this means I need to focus more on heaven, where God will completely and perfectly fill all of my desires.
2) Having true friendships based on authentic concern for the well-being of others
Sometimes we have friends that listen to us because they just really care about our happiness and salvation. Sometimes these friends are not people we would naturally be connected to unless it was an intentional decision to befriend the person. This is healthy. If we’re only friends with people that we are attracted to, we will find a harder time practicing love in our friendships. Rather, we are only exercising friendship based on our needs and selfishness actually forms the heart of the friendship. We also need some intentional friendships based on higher concerns of helping each other get to heaven. and given time, they will become deeper and more fulfilling.
3) Commit to being a servant of others
Instead of saying, ‘what can I get out of life?’ I need to learn the attitude of giving life to others. This is a more fulfilling way. How can I improve the life of others? How can I care for their physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs? Learning to care for other people is a huge step in learning to live a fulfilled life. One sign that shows that we’re attached to the world is when we wake up and start thinking about only ourselves. Learning to bring to mind the concerns of others as one of the first things we think about in the morning will give us a mentality of service. We can learn to look at people with eyes of love, no matter what their level of need, everyone in the world is yearning to be loved, respected, and cared for. Even if it begins with just one good deed a day, becoming a servant of others will give us deep satisfaction and happiness.
In the end, Easter brings to the fore the conversation between choosing Barabbas or Jesus, this world or the next world. Barabbas was known for harming people, and Jesus was known for healing them. Sometimes we get short-sighted and forget that Jesus’ victory was so much greater than Barabbas’! We choose Barrabai in our lives, when we choose to listen to worldly desires more powerfully than our desire for God.