Barabbas – Theresa Smith
July 18, 2017
Barabbas is late. I had a feeling about Barabbas. I have to admit I was seduced by his resume: Herodic palace guard, Oriental astrologer and, here’s the kicker, a speaking role as Pharisee 2 in Matthew 19:7. But here we are, the masses are screaming, the Son of God’s in shackles, Pontius Pilate has to leave at 6:30 – and no Barabbas.
From my desk, I can see Angry Roman #6 climbing onto a large boulder, which luckily enough was already in position when we got here yesterday. Angry Roman #6 is one of our best, and this part is honestly a little beneath him, but for some reason he seemed really pumped about it, so we gave it to him. He’s been in the book more times than I can count: John 10:19, Mark 14:47, Matthew 23:19, just to name a few. He had to sign a waiver for the last one; anyone having bodily contact with the Son of God has to sign a document saying basically that he or she promises not to use the opportunity to kill, maim, embarrass, upstage, or in any way through speech or deed damage the reputation of the Son of God, which more than a few people have tried their hand at. There are plenty of people who’d like to see Jesus fall flat on His face, believe me. We have to deal with zealots every day.
The security is insane. You should see the contract. For every public speaking event, at least 50 guards, armed to the teeth, posted at every entrance and exit and working the crowd, and a special detail for the Son of God. Every time. You have no idea what it’s like keeping 50 guards on the payroll. If the forum happens to be light on rabble that day, the guards have to go and corral as many as they can before Jesus gets impatient and launches into His speech. More than once He’s made with the Word of God to 50 guards, a shepherd, two or three lepers and a moneylender on his way to somewhere else. I catch heat for it, but what can I do? The event is a formality, anyway, and the real value is in the transcript. The Heavenly Father could just commission someone to write it all down, but that lacks spectacle. And boy, does He understand spectacle. Just about better than anybody else.
6:18. Where the hell is Barabbas? Pontius Pilate is looking at the sundial, Angry Roman #6 is making silent yelling faces and pumping his fists, the guards are looking bored, the madding crowd is starting to head for the exits, only to be pushed back into the fray by the guards. The rabble is getting pissed. We could have a full-scale Plague debacle on our hands. I do the only thing I can think of to do, given the circumstances.
I open the door.
Eyes shut against the searing lights, I step out. One, two, three. The fillings in my teeth rattle a little. Through the dead air, I hear the sound of shoes on dirt. I look down. They’re mine. I’m walking across the clay floor of the city market. Then, I hear them. 2000 of them, maybe more. Shoved back by the guards, thinking of slitting throats. I walk towards the sound. I see them: mouths open, tongues showing, teeth glaring, arms whirling. I pick up the pace. I’m at the gate. I show my credentials to the guard. He steps back, surprised. I think he recognizes me.
I start to swing through the crowd, catching their energy, pumping my arms, picking up a word here and there. “Crucify!” I yell. “Not our king!” I wade, dissatisfied with the status quo, closer to Pilate, who seems to be mentally elsewhere. “I AM BARABBAS!” I shout. One of the guards, a quick thinker, hustles me to the prow of the crowd. “HERE IS BARABBAS!” he yells, and before I know it, I’m being hauled up hand over elbow onto the proscenium by some palace guards. I clearly don’t fit the profile. Pilate looks nonplussed. “THIS IS BARABBAS!” the guard yells again, helpfully.
Pilate swings into action. “Here, before you, is Barabbas, the notorious criminal!” he bellows, gripping me by the back of the neck and giving me a good shake. “A criminal whose life is worth less than the dirt you spit on! A vicious, horrible, wicked, atrociously bad egg! This man has done nothing other than bring pain – and suffering – to well-heeled members of society with his inconsiderate and vile ways!” Boos. “Again I say to you: he is worth less than the worn-out sole of the son of a shepherd’s sandal!” This last line is delivered with satisfaction, and the crowd responds with a strafing of approval. A man in front jabs at my ankles with a staff. I step back, but Pilate catches me and propels me forward, again by the nape of the neck. “What do you have to say for yourself, vile Barabbas?” he booms.
I wasn’t expecting this. Barabbas isn’t a speaking role. Pilate is going off-script, which he’s done before, but this time it’s bad. “Well?” bellows Pilate, giving me a good shove right between the shoulder blades. I half-stumble to the edge of the proscenium, look down into the hostile crowd, and say the first thing that comes to me.
“I’m innocent!” I howl.
I can see the Son of God’s jaw drop. The transcriptionist’s stylus stops moving. I wait.
The crowd is static. “He’s innocent?” I hear a guy say to his wife, who shrugs. There is general confusion. “Why the hell are we here?” someone asks. A few people start to head for the gate, and the surprised guards let them pass, thinking, perhaps, that the event is over. I realize the profundity of my error. Due to my idiocy, the crowd now has to choose between condemning Jesus or lynching a purportedly innocent man, who frankly does not look like a criminal, all because I panicked. And this is all going in the Book. The whole point of the Barabbas story, as was explained to us ad nauseam by a bored angel in the nerve center, was to illustrate the point that the Romans LOATHED Jesus so much they’d rather see him get it than condemn a guy who was going to be put to death anyway. If it was now a choice between Jesus and an innocent man – where was the irony? I had just taken care of that.
The guard who brought me to the front of the crowd must have realized what was happening, because he yells, “Wait!” A few people turn around. He points to me, his face a mask of rage. “That’s the man who stole my 20 shekels!” I must look stunned, because he keeps going. “Thief! Usurper! Cheat! Give me my money!” He works his way to the front of the crowd, still yelling. “Degenerate! Donkey-lick! Liar! Foul son of market-thieves! Anti-claque! Pervert!” The crowd is riled up again. Men claw at my feet, and a woman chucks her water-gourd at me. I duck. Someone else throws a chicken leg, and pretty soon onions, millet, sandals and cucumbers are flying fast and thick. In the middle of the fray, the guard tosses me a leather pouch. I instinctively put it in my pocket. “STOP!” Pilate thunders, having been almost hit by a dead quail. “Search him!” he thumps, pointing to me with a thick digit.
The palace guards tackle me and begin pawing through my clothing. One of them triumphantly locates the bag and tosses it to Pilate, who looks surprised by nothing anymore. He pulls the string, turns it upside down, and sure enough – shekels hit the ground. I look at the guard. He looks at me. He almost smiles.
Now the crowd explodes. “THIEF!” they wail. “BUM! MURDERER!” Pilate grabs me by the nape of the neck again. “I ask you again,” he rumbles, “who will you have, this thieving piece of human dung, or Jesus your Messiah? Choose!” This time the response is bracing. “Give us Barabbas!” they yell. “The lying roustabout! The horrible waste of skin! Child of Babylon! The irredeemable!”
“And what shall we do with Jesus?” Pilate prompts, working them up. “CRUCIFY HIM!” they scream. Pilate pitches me off the proscenium into the foaming crowd, and I go down. Someone kicks me in the balls with a sandal. I roll over, one arm across my face and the other protecting my lap. Another reveler prods me with his staff, and I roll again. Suddenly I’m being lifted up by the armpits by another guard who’s gotten the picture, and who hauls me toward the gate by my belt, all the while yelling “FREE BARABBAS! FREE BARABBAS!”, which in turn is picked up by the crowd until all of them are screaming it, all together, slapping me on the back and tousling my hair. One of them shoves a piece of silver into my outstretched hand. In this fashion I am led to the gate, and booted out with ceremony. I check my pocket to make sure my badge is still there. If they’d found it, there’d be actual hell to pay.
I begin the long, slow walk back to the nerve center. I’ve got to find out who that guard is. He’s our next Herod.