I was watching a live feed of a Palm Sunday mass yesterday and the internet connection was cutting in and out, making it a little hard to focus on the readings but at one particular choppy bit, one word came flying out at me in a way it hadn’t before.
You know him, he’s the guy the crowds chose for release in place of Jesus. The notorious criminal, insurrectionary, and murderer whom Pilate hoped would make such a strong contrast to Jesus that it would allow him to let Jesus go. In the movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, Barabbas is portrayed as so disgusting, so despicable, that you can’t imagine the crowd’s decision. Yet, they chose him, and it got me thinking, maybe we do, too.
Last night after an especially trying day, I sat in front of the tv and started an episode of The Real Housewives of New York City. Within about three minutes, I remembered how terrible and self-centered these women are, how the whole thing is brain candy and how that kind of thing has always been a place of rest for me, but in these weird days, it no longer satisfied. Lu-Ann and Sonia and Ramona seemed suddenly so grotesque in manner and character that I ran for the remote and quickly turned it off. I’m not exaggerating. Something had shifted for me. With the world on fire and everything upside-down and sideways, at this particular point in history, what we choose to do with our time matters, and we can feel the truth of that in our guts. Will we choose holiness or filth, health or depravity, darkness or light?
Please know I’m not over here in my little house praying the rosary non-stop and we are definitely watching movies and tv (public service announcement: Community is now on Netflix), and we’re online a bunch but at the same time, there’s something in my spirit that’s questioning the choices I’ve always taken for granted. If this was my last day, would I take a walk in the sunshine or hang with RHONY in the dark? On some days, in some moments, I’m still not sure.
The choice for Barabbas makes sense if you think about it. With his obvious sin and depravity, he doesn’t challenge us in the least. We can feel morally superior to him, we can manage him, and let’s face it: we know that guy. He’s gross and disturbing, yes, but so is everyone, right? I mean, so am I. To choose Jesus puts us in a much different position. In the light of that goodness, of that undeserved suffering, of that boundless love, we have to look at ourselves in a way we might not like. Choosing light is hard. Even though it’s good for us, it shines a spotlight on all the things we’d much rather remained in the shadows.
I heard a sermon on a podcast recently that talked about the benefit and gift of a time like this. No, it doesn’t feel like a gift, or at least any gift we’d ask for, but it is a gift nonetheless. This strange time gives clarity, light, and clear contrast to all of the building blocks with which we’ve built our lives to this point, and it allows us the privilege of choosing which things to keep and which to let go. In this messy, noisy, dangerous construction zone of a world, we have some choices. We can numb out, stay largely on the path we’ve been on and hunker down until it’s all over, or we can look at our lives with intentionality, choosing just who it is we want to be. The light is quiet and it makes no demands on us ever, but it does stand there next to the darkness as we hear the question rise within us with a new urgency moment by moment: which will I choose?
Highly recommend this podcast from Church in the City, thanks for the inspiration: