Sons of the Father

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 56; 149, Joshua 23:1-16, Romans 15:25-33, Matthew 27:11-23


The character Barabbas is found in all four Gospels. During the Passover, Pilate had a tradition of pardoning one Jewish prisoner condemned to death. He gives the crowd a choice: they can free either Jesus the Messiah or a notorious prisoner. The crowd infamously chooses the prisoner.

Do you know the translation of the Greek name Barabbas is “son of the father?” The crowd literally chose between one Son and another. Because it seems we should condemn their choice, this story has been wrongly used to blame the Jewish people for Christ’s crucifixion. Had they chosen to free Jesus, the whole salvation story of the cross might never have happened. Whatever one’s theology regarding the cross and atonement, the story of Barabbas illustrates how God’s plan for salvation does not depend on the goodness of people, but unfolds despite our flawed nature.

Jesus (or more accurately, the Hebrew “Yeshua”) was not an uncommon name at the time, and some of the earliest versions of Matthew give the notorious prisoner’s full name as Jesus Barabbas. This makes the choice sound even more poignant. How many times, rather than choosing to let Jesus freely roam our minds and hearts, have we settled for a less-perfect substitute? In the 1961 film, Barabbas commits arson because he mistakenly believes it’s the end of the world and someone tells him Christians set Rome ablaze. How often do we mistakenly embrace a Christianity that would rather burn the world than die for it? We do it when we rationalize choosing the Jesus who allows us to value comfort over mercy, common sense over charity, or fear over faith, instead of the Jesus who sacrificed himself on a cross.

Yet these choices do not cause God to abandon us. We follow a risen Christ who seeks us; a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to redeem a lost one. The gospels don’t tell us the fate of the Biblical Barabbas, but Christ’s sacrifice was for him as much as for any of us. Like Barabbas, we live because Christ loved us unto death. May our choices reflect that love.

Comfort: Salvation unfolds regardless of our mistakes.

Challenge: Watch and discuss either the 1961 or 2012 version of Barabbas with friends.

Prayer: Merciful and Loving God, I will seek you above all things. Amen.

Discussion: The crowd thought it was making the right choice. When have you had to break from the crowd – especially a Christian crowd – to do the right thing?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Whatsoever

WhatsoeverYouDo

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11, Joshua 3:1-13, Romans 11:25-36, Matthew 25:31-46


In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, a king judges and divides all the nations of the world – blessed sheep on his right hand and accursed goats on his left. To the sheep he says: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” The sheep ask when they did these things for him, and he explains whenever they did it for the least of his brothers, they did it for him. How we understand this message hinges on how we understand Jesus’s use of “brothers.”

Many hear a call to social justice, to consider all who are in need the brothers (and sisters) of Christ. Scripture – in both Old and New Testament passages – certainly calls us to show mercy and hospitality to the poor and marginalized, so this reading seems in character. Others focus on how “brother” is used elsewhere in Matthew, and associate it with “follower.” Under this interpretation, the story is about the consequences of how people receive specifically the disciples and – by extension – preachers of the Gospel. The second camp is concerned the first camp promotes a social gospel reducing salvation to a list of specific good works. The first camp calls this an oversimplification of their position and claims those who truly receive Christ respond to those in need.

Between these camps lies the beauty of parables, which are open to interpretation. Not to say we can impose whatever meaning suits our current whim, or that Jesus’s intent is unimportant, but that more than one aspect of the truth can be revealed. Is it not vital to welcome the Gospel and aid its bearers? And once we do so, will we not view our relationship to “the least” in a new light that inspires us to serve them? Our relationship to the Gospel is inseparable from our relationship to the world.

Comfort: You can’t go wrong welcoming the Gospel and serving the needy.

Challenge: Our fellow Christians, who have different understandings of the Gospel than we do, can be the hardest not to judge. Make it a point this week to engage such people in conversation, with the intent only of understanding, not persuading.

Prayer: Gracious and Merciful God, grant me the patience and humility to understand the lessons of scripture. Amen.

Discussion: Is there one interpretation of this parable you prefer over the other? Is it the same one you feel is more “authentic?”

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!