Whom Do You Choose?

04-02-2023Pastor's LetterFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends, “The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus” Matthew 27:20 Pilate offers the crowd a choice.

The Gospel writers keep the Hebrew name Barabbas instead of the Greek translation: Barabbas meaning in Hebrew “son of God”.

So the choice Pilate offers: which son of God do you want? The revolutionary, the zealot or this one the Nazarene whom you call king of the Jews…We want Barabbas.

Pilate had every reason not to release the revolutionary. He was a bigger threat to Pilate’s control, stirring up political discord. He could see Jesus was being brought to him out of jealousy. He obviously had done no wrong. Yet the crowd wanted Barabbas…Well better to keep the crowd on his side and give them what they wanted…political expediency and not justice was Pilate’s motive.

Pilate had already shown a certain cynicism towards the truth. But even he realized that Jesus was not guilty of anything deserving execution. Yet like most political leaders who get backed into doing the wrong thing, Pilate bought into another theory to cover over his lack of integrity: “I personally oppose this, wash my hands of it, but it is my legal duty to do it.”

But why do the crowds want the son of God called Barabbas? Why not Jesus the son of God? Was it a choice of the material over the spiritual? This world over the elusive kingdom Jesus proclaimed? After all Barabbas represented a new world order, freedom from Roman control. Let us do what we want. Let us hope in the here and now only. Forget this Jesus son of God with his claims to justice. No Barabbas will do.

After all who could blame the crowds. They were manipulated by their leaders, sold a dream that was an illusion in order to give power to an ever-corrupting Temple system. It was all designed to allow Caiaphas to keep his power, collect his temple taxes. The crowd was weary of the political games, Roman oppression, the ever-high taxation from which they got nothing, tired of the money lenders and their extortion, tired of the business leaders who cleverly cheated them, tired of working with nothing to show. Barabbas would help fill their bellies. Sure, Jesus multiplied the loaves but that was a one-time thing, the price was too high. Give us Barabbas yelled the crowd.

Didn’t the blind man in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel sitting by the side of the road get drowned out by the crowd? They all told him to shut up…yet Jesus heard him, opened his eyes. The crowd is fickle, easily manipulated. No principles, no convictions.

And so we stand there with the crowd today…who do we want? Barabbas or Jesus? Who do we choose? The crowd shouts us down. Stop your silly superstitious ways. We’ll get you what you need, what you want. Stop standing in the way of progress, get rid of your irrational religion and ethics and follow the way of the crowd…Choose the son of God called Barabbas...

But we have chosen Jesus the Son of God. When so many of our brothers and sisters have joined the crowd, have rejected the way of life and truth, we today begin the climb to Calvary. It won’t be easy, it never is. Today finally after the ministry is complete, the signs have been preformed, the Sermon preached on the Mount, the Gospel now offers us the moment of choosing: do you want the son of this world, the crowd pleaser, the one who offers false security, nothing everlasting? Or do you choose the Son of God, Jesus, the Nazarene? If you do, then you choose His Cross, choose to be despised by this world, insulted at every turn, blamed for the lack of progress towards utopia, towards that heaven on earth with all its needs taken care of. If you choose the Nazarene, you too will drink from the Chalice of His suffering so as to taste His Resurrection.

Jesus may we choose only you, only you, and you alone!


Fr. John B.