Jesus stood before Pilate. The priests and elders said, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah.” Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responded, “Do you ask this from yourself, or did others tell you about me?”
In other words, are you just repeating what you’ve heard, or are you thinking for yourself?
It was a custom during Passover that the Roman Procurator would release a prisoner, anyone the people wanted. It happened that there was a notorious prisoner at the time named Jesus Barabbas, who was imprisoned for instigating an insurrection against Roman authority. When a crowd gathered outside the palace, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” The priests and elders had gone out into the crowd and stirred them up to ask for Barabbas, and to ask that the other Jesus be killed. So they all yelled out, “Barabbas!” And when he asked, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”, they all shouted obediently, “Let him be crucified!” Pilate tried one more time, saying, “Why? What has he done?” But the officials had the mob so riled up by this time that they just shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
The name ‘Barabbas’ means ‘Son of the Father’, so there is great irony here as the crowd chooses between two Jesuses who are both Sons of the Father. They chose the one who had literally brought an insurrection against Rome – which is what the masses had long hoped a Messiah would literally do.
So Pilate, according to the Gospel of Mark, “wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.”
Only Matthew, the Gospel writer who, years later, was most hurt and disturbed by the refusal of his Jewish brethren to embrace Christianity, adds the touch that Pilate ‘washed his hands of the matter’ and got the crowd to say, “His blood be on us and our children”.
Matthew’s version has often been used by the forces of bigotry to promote anti-Semitism.
But actually, the responsibility in this story belongs to a mob – a mob that has been stirred up by corrupt officials. The real lesson here is about our ‘suggestibility’, the phenomenal ease with which we abdicate all efforts to think and reason critically for ourselves, believing and doing whatever we are told. This is hardly a flaw that is limited to any particular religious or national group. This is the same mob that cheered for Hitler, the same mob that acquiesced to Joe McCarthy, the same mob that screams anti-American slogans in Teheran. It is the mob of hysterical, suggestible, destructive and murderous voices, that are always hiding and waiting within our own souls.
The ‘Jews’ didn’t kill Jesus. After all, Jesus himself and all his disciples and supporters were ‘Jews’!! And most Jews weren’t in the Palace Courtyard that night: they were home, living their lives, trying to scrape together a living and feed their families – they’d never even heard of Jesus, or if they had, they didn’t have time to think about him.
This was just an example of a mob, being stirred up by rabble-rousers.
So what is the Bible trying to tell us? The Jews didn’t kill Jesus. And no, the Romans didn’t kill him either. We did! You, and I, and everyone. We kill him every day! The point of the story is that we kill that inner spark of divinity, the Christ within, with our suggestibility, our inner mob mentality, our willingness to be intellectually and emotionally bullied, our refusal to feel and act and think for ourselves. This is why Christ says what he says to Pilate, and this is what the Gospels want all of us to think about.
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