Luke 23:13 – 25
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’
18 Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ 19(This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ 22A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ 23But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
The religious leaders brought Jesus to Pilate; Pilate sent him to Herod; Herod sent him hack to Pilate. Now Pilate speaks again to the “crowd” the chief priests have gathered. We often say this is a fickle crowd, praising Jesus on Palm Sunday and shouting “Crucify him!” on Good Friday. But what that idea forgets is that it is a different crowd. The religious leaders had been careful not to attack Jesus in the presence of the crowd that supported him, either on Palm Sunday, or every day in the temple. Now, like a political group paying actors to hold signs, pretending to be a demonstration, for the media to photograph, they have brought together their own crowd. Even in those days, and especially at Passover, Jerusalem was a large city, and many people crowded the streets. They needed only to call on those who were dependent in some way on the high priest. Roman society, and that in her colonies, worked by patronage. And so, this group gathered at the courtyard of the Antonia Fortress (good Jews would not go inside, but forced Pilate to come out to them), knew what their patron wanted and were ready to act like a passionate crowd to achieve it.
And so, Pilate is stuck with making a decision. Now, this was not a man renowned for being fair or kind. In fact, he was removed from office shortly after this for his excessive cruelty. And for cruelty to be excessive by Roman standards took some doing! But in the gospels, Pilate at least makes an attempt to be fair. He says that he does not find the man guilty of treason, which was their accusation before him – he thinks perhaps if he just punishes the man by having him flogged they will be satisfied. The “crowd” refuses to be satisfied with that; they know what the high priest wants, and that is death, not just any death, but cruel death, crucifixion. Pilate tries again – he will release one man and crucify the other. He has in custody a known murderer, leader of an insurrection – a terrorist named Barabbas. But the crowd demands that Barabbas be released and Jesus crucified. And so, Pilate released Barabbas, and sentenced Jesus to take his place on the cross that had already been prepared. Have you ever wondered what happened to Barabbas? What did this event of grace mean to him? Did he change his life? Or did he just go back to murdering people in the name of his ideology? We remember Barabbas only as a terrorist who was released so that Jesus would be crucified. No one knows what idealogy he thought great enough to kill for – what he thought his purpose was. But everyone remembers the one who died in his place, who willingly gave up his life for all of us. Which do we want to follow?
paving stones from the area of the Antonia Fortress