The Roman Empire was a very powerful one. Essentially, it was a feudalistic state; a prominent social system which was a signature of the time. The rule of the Emperor was absolute – he was literally the judge, jury and executioner. As you can imagine, this grip on power wasn’t happenstance, the stakeholders invested a lot into maintaining the status quo – so to challenge this authority was tantamount to signing your own death warrant.
Along comes some unknown man from Nazareth, not born of royalty, not in the military neither is among the political class nor of the uber rich folks. This Nazarene then starts, albeit most organically, growing a strong following. From acts of kindness, teachings, healing and even feeding the people, his fame begins to spread. Of course, the hegemony doesn’t like this, so they hatch a disingenuous plan to silence him, that’s where Judas, the son of perdition comes in.
Fast forward to his trial where I really want to extrapolate some profound insights: he was accused of being the king of the Jews in a land where people know no king but Caesar; the reason why the trial was before Pontius Pilate and not the Sanhedrin is because it was political trial not a religious one; the Nazarene is not accused here of blasphemy but for being a dissent, that’s why the charge against him was not for calling himself the Son of God, which speaks to his claim of deity or messianic personality, but for suggesting that he was the king of the Jews, which speaks to his supposed political aspirations.
Pilate, the Roman governor knew that the Nazarene was innocent and did not deserve the death penalty. His wife also warned him not to scuttle justice for a righteous man but as most politicians do, he bowed to pressure and vested interests – he didn’t want to anger the Jewish leaders nor did he want a riot to erupt, both of which would have made him appear weak and unpopular. So he played to the gallery, asking what the people wanted, which was obvious – a crucifixion for the rebel. Pilate agreed to this and washed his hands off the case.
For context, all these happened during the Passover – a feast where, amongst other things, a prisoner is chosen by the people to be released. It’s easy to chide the crowd for making a terrible mistake by choosing a hardened criminal, Barnabas, to be released over an innocent man – until you stretch your imagination a bit. Think of the Passover as an election window. Think of the Nazarene and Barabbas as candidates in that election. Think of the Jewish leaders as political parties. Think of Pilate as an electoral body. Then think of the people who were shouting “may his blood be on us and that of our children” as the electorates. Does this appear more familiar to you now?
This is why when many people are presented with a corrupt candidate alongside a competent one, they go with the person who has a well-documented criminal history instead. When they see a candidate with ideas, they will prefer the one with paucity of critical thinking because he or she shares money. They will cry and complain about their economic challenges but when they see a savvy candidate, they will say “this one dey speak too much English, shey na grammar we go chop? This wan wey things dey cost, na person wey show love we go vote for.”
The damning consequence about their choice of Barnabas is that it is trans-generational – the sour grapes they eat at such a decision-point will set the teeth of their children on edge. They only thought of the here and now but in reality, by making such a terrible choice, they have jeopardised the future of even their unborn generation. You see how people choose Barabbas? Barabbas here is not the man, he’s a metaphor. He’s not a person, he’s a prism – a perspective through which many people see and ultimately make their decisions. Just as it’s true for politics, it’s true for all facets of life.
For example, in a relationship, whether dating or marriage, many people choose Barabbas. When you choose to be in a relationship with a serial cheat, a person who lacks empathy, a person who commits intimate partner abuse/domestic violence, a lazy and insecure person over one that worships the very floor you walk on, supports your dreams and loves you unconditionally, warts and all, you have chosen Barabbas. Just like Pontius Pilate, you are more concerned about what people will say instead of finding the courage to do the right thing.
When young people who are smart and able-bodied choose to engage in cyber-crime, drug peddling and other social vices over using the same ingenuity to run legit economic activities and careers, they have chosen Barabbas. When they make themselves available to be used for destruction over being educated and empowered like their colleagues all over the world, they have chosen Barabbas. When they find it easier to agonise than to organise, they have chosen Barabbas.
When a system locks up innocent people but allows criminals who have committed multiple felonies to walk free, it has chosen Barabbas. When that system punishes good behaviour but rewards bad behaviour, it has chosen Barabbas. When those who want peace are harassed, hounded and hijacked but those who show copious capacity for carnage and chaos are celebrated, it has chosen Barabbas. Such a system talks to true patriots in the language they will understand but uses euphemisms when talking about those that are an existential threat to a people’s collective peace.
Whether it’s AD 33 or AD 2022, for every time we choose Barabbas, we legitimise dysfunction – not just for ourselves but for our children unborn. Selah.