The Word for today:
Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" And they cried out again, "Crucify him." And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him." So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15)
I usually don’t feel comfortable in a church. I’m probably wrong to think this way, but whenever I go into a church I feel that I’m among a bunch of squeaky-clean people who will never know me.
I once had a long talk with a pastor who was reputed to be doctrinally and personally pure. Over the course of a long afternoon, I guided him through a tour of the twisted passages in my mind. Attempting to empathize, he confessed to me that he, too, was a sinner.
This was not news to me, but it sounded like news to him. “I have searched my past,” he began, “and it reveals that I am a glutton. That’s my sin.”
He had a nearly perfect physique and could probably beat everyone his age in a 5k race, but he looked right at me and told me his besetting sin was common gluttony. In confessing his sin, he was patting himself on the back.
I waited for his confession of other sins. He was visually struggling to come up with something — anything — else to confess. But, honest as he was, he could not tell a lie! There was no other way in which he could admit that he had fallen short of the glory of God.
I wish he had asked me, because I knew a long list of ways that he fell short. And over the course of the next year or two, I got around to telling him some of the items on that list. I even got around to telling him that the only sin I could think of that he had not committed was gluttony!
Churches are full of people like that, who manage to pat themselves on the back even while, ostensibly, in the act of contrition.
That’s why I spend more time in my Bible than in a church. In my Bible are some people who understand me. For example, both thieves on the cross understand me (though only one of them understood Jesus.)
In my Bible live a whole congregation of ne’er-do-wells like Samson and Rahab and Jacob and David and Nadab and Abihu and Ananias and Sapphira and Barabbas. I’m at home when I am with them.
Barabbas, especially, understands me. He is a notorious sinner like I am, and the cross Jesus died on was literally meant for him. I mean that if they were to find the true cross of Jesus Christ, on the back of the beam somewhere they would find Barabbas’ name bespattered by the blood. I feel more than just a kinship with him. We might as well be twins.
If ever I were to start a church, I would call it the church of Barabbas. In order to be a member, you would have to verify that somewhere in the Kidron Valley, beneath the accumulated garbage and rubble of twenty centuries, lies a cross with your name on it.
If you meet that single criterion, you are always welcome to join. I hope you do, ‘cause you will love the church of Barabbas. You will swear it’s exactly like heaven, where only a “Barabbas” ("son of Abba”) is allowed.