Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Jesus Barabbas (son of Father)


Mt 27:16; Lk 23:19,25; Jn 18:40; Mk 15:7

Politics and Religion can be viewed as an ever blurred distinction because both are in the game of protecting people. And in this game, it is no surprise that political leaders are divinized as ‘gods’. This practice of divination could not be of very recent origin, we can see in and through the history that it had been there, and wherever “King” culture had existed. And within these cultures eventually these “kings” were proclaimed as “Gods”. From “Augustus” of Caesar (Octavius) to “Apotheosis” of George Washington it had been there and still exists in various forms. Even in Indian context there had been a wide witness of various cults which have blurred the distinction between humans and gods. Particularly in this context divinization of humans is not much of taboo when observed closely. For instance “paalaythu amman” and “aiyanar” could be seen as cults based on benevolent leadership and these cults eventually became full-fledged indigenous religions. This leadership-cult based religious practice in the popular culture has become a norm for defining political leadership and is on the meteoric rise. This could be demonstrated by Narendra Modi’s temple in Bhagwanpur, Uttar Pradesh and Sonia Gandhi’s depiction as ‘goddess of Telangana’ (Telangana Talli) and many more leaders like Jayalalitha and Mayawati have notorious reputation of cults based on their persona.

These projections of leader-cum-god tell us something of what the world needs in a leader, that is humanity and divinity together. This kind of cultic-leadership is not strange in the Judean context of “Messianic” expectations. For Jews, ‘Messiah’ is a King as well as ‘anointed of God’, who is a benevolent leader of divine anointing. And these messianic-cults were only fermented and brought to the fore through colonial oppression of Jews, through Greeks and Roman incursions. And this messianic expectation and upheaval finds place in the Biblical narrative of Jesus the Messiah. This upheaval and escalation of conflicts between Roman power and Jewish Messianic cult could be seen more clearly during the trial of Jesus, where Jesus the ‘king of the Jews’ is coupled with another Messianic figure Barabbas (also in some manuscripts of Matthew names him Jesus Barabbas see NRSV). 

Barabbas in the Gospel accounts name him “robber” (Jn 18:40); “murderer” (Lk 23:19,25); “notorious prisoner”(Mt 27:16). John’s gospel mentions Barabbas as “robber” in Greek lestes which could mean “freedom fighter” or “member of resistance” (Ratzinger 2005). Ratzinger writes of Barabbas as “he was one of the prominent members of the resistance movement, the one who actually instigated that uprising”. Many have written much about Barabbas as some who is in direct conflict with Jesus as an anti-thesis of whatever Jesus stood for. Many commentaries talk about Barabbas as common criminal who is unfit for his own people, and the others in a more spiritualizing way talk about Barabbas building his own kingdom while Jesus trying to build the ‘kingdom of God’ (Barclay 2001, 290). Usually this episode of Barabbas and Jesus goes down into sermons as the forgiving power of Jesus, where Barabbas is likened to all humanity who are spiritual dissidents before God (Spurgeon 1994, 220), one other commentator finds Barabbas ‘unpatriotic’ (MacArthur 1989). However, within some many negative voices about Barabbas two distinct voices have given a proper credit for him saying that “possibly Barabbas was the son of a prominent rabbi” (Hovestol 2010). In all this it is Ratzinger who sees “Barabbas was a messianic figure”.

Gospels gives us revolutionary picture of Barabbas and we need to pay more serious attention to that personality instead of brushing him aside as ‘criminal’ or ‘sinner’. Barabbas could have had his own messianic intentions and would have been captured and imprisoned, however he should be credit as one who had a messianic vision of delivering his people. His imprisonment tells us that he was not just a mere visionary but also an insurrectionist (who had violently fought) against the Roman rule. This messianic vision is what brings him to the parallel to Jesus of Nazareth. And it is no surprise that during the trial of Jesus, when the choice is given to people (ochlos), they choose Barabbas. Jesus lost the contest for Messianic candidacy against Barabbas. While people wanted Barabbas, Pilate wants Jesus of Nazareth to be released. Each of them had their own advantage in their choice. For the people it was the return of a national hero who would again put his army back to reckon with the Romans and for Pilate, it would be easy for him to release Jesus instead of Barabbas given, Jesus views on Tax and Kingdom are definitely not in direct conflict with the Roman interest. Hence, Pilate’s urge to release him.

On the other side here emerges an important model in leadership a double movement in the narration. For Barabbas, Jesus could mean an imprisonment of another messianic visionary leader who had been captured. This would mean that he could continue with his messianic engagement. And the other movement could be, people were not left without any Messiah even in during the crucifixion of Jesus, Barabbas a Messianic visionary is released to them. And it is evident in the history that Messianic-visionaries existed even long after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here Jesus points out to us that leadership is always a shared vision. Messianic vision should be continued in and through the community; Messiah’s should rise, live and die for their people as long as there is oppression. Being the Messiah for Jesus is not a prized possession or a title that is to be protected, which is the situation in present day politics, where titles are of interest rather than the responsibilities that accompany them, rather it is a relay effort, a joint and shared vision that is to be enacted through the community themselves. Maybe it could be hardly argued by the orthodox interpreters that Jesus’ messianic vision is entirely different and for Jesus it is the Kingdom of God or Reign of God (basileia tou theo), yes it is totally agreed, but however, that will not stop Barabbas to be released and have his own share at establishing ‘reign of God’ in his own terms. Even here Jesus had no monopoly over what Messianic protocols are. Thus here emerges a good leadership ideology of continuity of leadership in and through the community itself, because Messiah belongs to the people (ochlos).

Another important figure in the Matthew’s narration following the Barabbas is Simon of Cyrene. This commoner suddenly enters this high tension drama and steals the show by carrying the cross of Jesus. If ‘cross’ is seen as sacrosanct of Christian symbol it is alarming to note that the very own cross of Jesus was shared by another commoner. Even the cross of Jesus is not his own to carry to the fullest, he needs help. If cross is seen in terms of salvation, then salvation comes only in and through sharing each other’s cross. And it could be imagined when Jesus gives the call for his disciples to carry his own cross and follow him (Mt 16:24), there is expected to be a Simon in every one’s journey of carrying the cross. This could be another important lesson in leadership saying that even the Cross of Jesus is the cross and burden of another man and therefore everyone should be willing to shoulder the cross for one another.

Given the situation in Indian politics where all sort of divinization or apotheosis of politicians is in the rage. It is essential for us to sound out the idols who propose to be Gods and Messiahs. A real messiah is one who is willing to keep the vision of ‘Messiah’ alive within the community even if it costs his own life and letting a Barabbas (another Messianic candidate) go free, while he himself is imprisoned. It is good to know that the name of Barabbas is Jesus Barabbas.

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