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Guilty, Yet Set Free

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It’s Really About the Sacrifice

The text for this year’s Palm Sunday is Mark 14:1-15:47.  As it is Palm Sunday this is a very long passage.  As a kid growing up Catholic, I always used to groan when I realized this was the really loooong reading day.  Now I soak up the deeper meaning of this, and every passage.

So, what is the meaning?  As with even very short Gospel texts you can focus on multiple lessons.  In a text this long we could (many have) write books on even just one of the lessons offered.  The lesson I will focus on is the sacrificial nature of Jesus’s ministry and what this means for us.

The core of Mark’s Gospel is the portrayal of Jesus as the Suffering Servant.  The other main focus is the near complete misunderstanding that makes up the Disciples mindset.  They just don’t get who this Jesus is and what He is up to.  Fortunately, we have 2000+ years perspective to help guide us.  The heart of the Passion story that makes up every Palm Sunday text is the suffering and humiliation that Jesus endures for us. 

We need not focus on the deep why of this, that is in the mind of God.  The meaning for us, however, is clear: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus places within us the faith that puts us right with God.  It is necessary to spend a great deal of time on this suffering because there can be no resurrection without the crucifixion.  It is also important to remember that Jesus is our template for what it is to be a fully human being.  This sacrificial love is a huge part of that.

What This Means for us (or, Who are We in This Story)?

If the core of this passage is about sacrifice by Jesus, the Suffering Servant, what does this mean for us?  A better way to understand the answer to this question is to ask the question, who are we in the story?  We might find ourselves as any one of a number of characters in this play.  We might be different characters at different times in our life.  Today, I would suggest it is beneficial to identify with an often overlooked character, Barabbas.  Barabbas was a convicted criminal, of whom there was no doubt as to his guilt.  He was quite possibly a bandit, which in this context may have meant a revolutionary opposed to Roman authority.  If this is the case, he might be an admirable person.  It is also possible that he was a common thief or highway robber, in which case he is less admirable.  In any event, Barabbas was guilty of the crimes he was charged with.  This is unlike Jesus who committed no acts of violence and was only peaceably preaching His message.

We all remember how the story goes.  It was the custom to release a prisoner during the festival of the Passover.  Pilate offers the crowd a choice, Jesus or Barabbas.  Of course, the crowd chooses to condemn Jesus, and so it goes.  However, if we conceive of ourselves as Barabbas then the magnitude of what Jesus has done for us becomes readily apparent. 

Is it not clear that at many levels we are Barabbas?  We are sinners, we are venal, and we are most assuredly guilty.  Yet, like Barabbas, Jesus has set us free.  He has done so without condition.  Jesus’s sacrifice has removed the verdict of guilt that previously hung over us.  We are now free to go forward with our lives.

The Scriptures do not say what Barabbas did with his freedom.  For all we know he may have ended back in the gallows.  One hopes he did something positive with the freedom Jesus provided for him.  The important question for us is, what shall we do with our freedom?  How will we respond to the gift of our bonds having been broken?  Like Barabbas, we have had the chains of death broken, we believe, once for all.  If we truly believe this, if we truly trust that God’s Good and Gracious Word is true, and that the resurrection is real, then we also trust that Jesus Christ is Lord.  If this be our faith, then the only response is to live as Jesus taught us, as best we humanly can.

We are now free to get up every day, freed by the knowledge that our salvation is assured through our faith that Jesus conquered death.  We can then boldly go out, with heaven in our back pocket and find new and interesting ways to kick Satan’s ass!  We need only look to Jesus, the Suffering Servant to see what this looks like.

So, this Palm Sunday, commit to getting in touch with your inner Barabbas, and remember that we have been set free, through nothing that we have done, but as a free gift from God via His Son.  Then freely and joyously live like a condemned person newly set loose.  Remembering that we have been set free to love and serve boldly.  Just a reminder that we have been set free to believe and then obey.

Praise Be to God

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