As I sat in Mass this past Sunday I struggled to participate in the Gospel reading. Each year I am choked up by the words that we are asked to say when we call for the release of the prisoner Barabbas over Jesus. Even more difficult is to participate in the demanding Christ’s crucifixion. There have been years that I simply can’t say the words and other years, like this year, that I force myself to participate.
The experience made me think about an article I wrote in 2013 called I am Barabbas. I decided that today, the day before Barabbas is released, would be a good day to ponder the reflection once again. And so my friends, I present to you I am Barabbas. I pray that it will move you and will bring you closer to Christ in your Lenten journey.
I remember the day as if it was yesterday and yet it was many, many years ago. I stood with the rest of the congregation for the reading of the Gospel on Palm Sunday. This had always been one of my favorite times of the year… receiving our palms, being able to be interactive with the Gospel as the lay people said their parts, and knowing that Easter, our most sacred day of the year, was only a week away. As we began the Gospel reading I listened and read along with everyone else. I was ready to speak my part when Pilate would ask us who we wished to be released… “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” I said the words loud and clear with all those around me.
Pilate again addresses us and tells us he can find no fault in this man Jesus. Again he asks what we want done with Him… “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Everyone around me shouted but the words caught in my throat. I couldn’t utter them at all. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. They threatened to spill over and I fought to keep them from doing so. My mind raced and I suddenly had a vision. I was up front, standing next to Jesus, facing the crowd. I wasn’t just a person in the crowd wanting to have Barabbas released and Jesus crucified, it was so much more than that. What I had come to understand in that split second was that I was Barabbas and that the crowd was shouting for Christ to be crucified in my place. I knew that while I deserved to be crucified, Jesus did not. I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer. They quietly slipped down my cheeks and dropped to the ground. It was because of my sins that someone so perfect, so loving, so kind would be tortured and killed. I hung my head in shame. I don’t think I heard another word of the Gospel that morning. I prayed instead that God would forgive me of all my sins that insured His son’s place on the cross. I prayed in thanksgiving that Christ loved me so much that He would take my place. I prayed that God would help me deserve this second chance.
We hear all the time that Christ died for our sins but how often do we truly contemplate what this really means? When we read through the Gospel this coming Sunday I challenge you to put yourself not just in the crowd but up in front of the crowd. Become Barabbas. Stand next to Christ as a liar, a cheat, a thief, a murderer, and let the crowd choose you over someone who has no sin. When you do this Christ’s offering becomes something so much more. It becomes real. Christ chose to stand in our place. He suffered tremendously for us. He died for us. He knew our sins, our shortcomings, and our failures and yet He still stood before the crowd and let them choose to release us instead of Him.
Our lives were changed in a way we could never understand on that fateful day. We were given a second chance at life… a chance to live our lives in a way that personifies Christ’s life and teachings. We are called to a holiness that encompasses all that we say and do. With this second chance we are asked to lay down our life of sin and pick up our cross as Jesus did. We will suffer and we will die but we will be forever changed and will rise with Christ as He did that glorious Easter Sunday.
The question remains- will you stand as Barabbas, sinful and proud or will you take your place beside Christ on the cross, acknowledging your sinfulness and begging as the criminal did “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”?