Jesus or Barabbas?

Matthew 27:17

“So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?'”

Dwight Lee Wolter

Yikes! Barabbas’ first name was Jesus and translates from Aramaic as “Jesus, Son of the Father” (Jesus, bar Abbas). But don’t confuse him with “our” Jesus, also the Son of the Father (as Jesus liked to call God). Two people in the same prison known as “Jesus, Son of the Father” is one too many, especially since one reputedly participated in a planned, violent insurrection against the Romans. And to think that, according to all four canonical gospels, a custom allowed Pilate to release a prisoner during Passover and the people chose to release Jesus Barabbas over Jesus of Nazareth!

A more recent supposed choice in leadership was when people chose to follow either Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. Martin, like Jesus, was seen as the advocate of nonviolent opposition to injustice whereas Malcolm, like Barabbas, was seen as the advocate of a potentially violent opposition to injustice. Many people chose which leader they would follow.

But there was a lot of Martin in Malcolm and Malcolm in Martin; and a lot of Jesus in Barabbas and Barabbas in Jesus. After all, Jesus had overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the temple (violent) and said it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven (agitator). And Barabbas sought freedom and removal of the yoke of injustice (idealist).

Why do we sometimes choose one part of ourselves over another – as if active and passive resistance, love and anger are opposites? What would the world be like today if, when given the choice posed by Pilate, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” the people had demanded, “Free them both!”


God of justice, free us from the tyranny of false choices. Grant us wisdom to integrate our thoughts, feelings and actions so that we may be integrated agents of transformation. Amen.

About the Author
Dwight Lee Wolter is the author of Forgiving Our Parents, Freedom Through Forgiving (a workbook), and Forgiving Our Grownup Children. He is pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York.
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