The choice of Jesus versus Barabbas is not accidental; two messiah figures, two forms of messianic belief stand in opposition. This becomes even clearer when we consider that the name Bar-Abbas means "son of the father". This is a typically messianic appellation, the cultic name of a prominent leader of the messianic movement... So the choice is between a messiah who leads an armed struggle, promises freedom and a kingdom of one's own, and this mysterious Jesus who proclaims that losing oneself is the way to life. Is it any wonder that the crowds prefer Barabbas?
The Lord... declares that the concept of the Messiah has to be understood in terms of the entirety of the message of the Prophets - it means not worldly power, but the Cross, and the radically different community that comes into being through the Cross.
This issue has occupied my thoughts and my heart for several years. It's a question that deserves a lifetime of contemplation.
Worldly power is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity. Nevertheless, our charge is to toil for justice without rest in a fallen world. This requires political engagement on some level. But once you rise to a certain point in our government, I think it becomes impossible to stay true to the Gospels. Our country rests on certain premises that cannot be reconciled with Christianity: an all powerful market that violates the human dignity of the poor, a military that occupies countries much like the Romans of Christ's time occupied Israel, the list goes on.
The contradiction between staying true to Christianity and doing what is necessary to lead our country as it is currently structured seems too great to reconcile. It is why I am especially critical of politicians like Rick Santorum who push an overtly religious agenda. I'm less concerned with religion's influence on politics than I am with the way politics corrupts religion.
Then again, we all must live with the fact that we are sinners. We create broken systems because we are broken people. Christ's redemption allows us to overcome our own fallen nature just as much as it allows for the creation of an otherworldly kingdom.
I worry that this logic allows for complacency. If sin is inescapable, then why should we as a society try to change? Of course this thought process perpetuates injustice.
The best solution I can find at this point is that we need to be more penitent as individuals and as a society. In both realms we will fall short. Sometimes wildly so. But if we keep a spirit of contrition alive and at the forefront, perhaps we can humbly strive our best to carry out the Gospels without letting power's worldly effects corrupt.
As Easter approaches, with its message of redemption, reconciliation and resurrection, I will be praying for and doing my part to create a more penitent world.