Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fr Georges Massouh on Choosing Barabbas

Arabic original here. For context, today the Lebanese parliament is starting the process of electing a president. Prominent on the list of candidates is a particularly notorious Civil War era warlord.

Barabbas was Murderer and a Robber

Between the righteous man and the robber, the people chose the robber. When Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Syria and Palestine, resorted to "democracy" and asked the Jewish people which of the prisoners they wanted him to release to them on occasion of the feast, Jesus or Barabbas, they chose Barabbas. "And Barabbas was a robber" (John 18:40). In another account, "Barabbas had been thrown in prison for fomenting revolt in the city and for committing the crime of murder" (Luke 23:20).

Between the righteous man and the murderer, the people chose the murderer. It is noteworthy that "the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus" (Matthew 27:20). Religious leaders colluded with rulers and strongmen to commit this sin. Religious leaders and scholars of the Law conspire to kill the innocent one, while the theif crucified on the right announces Jesus' innocence, "we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this Man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:41). The religious leaders conspire against the Righteous One, but the pagan Roman centurion testifies to Jesus and says, "Certainly this was a righteous man!" (Luke 23:47).

Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 387) decries the attitude of those who "demand that the innocent man be killed and seek the criminal's release." He is surprised that "evil has laws such as these, that condemn the innocent and pardon the guilty." Between Jesus, the Son of God, and Barabbas, whose name means "his father's son", people chose "his father's son". In exegesis, the expression "his father's son" means those of whom it was said "You are of your father the devil" (John 8:44). Between God and the devil, people chose the devil.

Since the dawn of history, this situation has not changed. Before democracy and after it, people have preferred various sorts of criminals. They prefer to have their affairs governed by murderers, those who commit massacres, robbers, and the corrupt. They elect those who have stained their hands with blood and those who have stained their hands with money... Then you see them grumbling about rampant corruption, poor living conditions, and the decline of their societies and their countries.

Yes, the religious leaders preferred the robber and the murderer to the righteous man. They condemned the righteous person to crucifixion and set the criminal free. The religious leaders and the men of the world made a pact against God and against His Christ. They ignored the weightiest thing in the Law, mercy, and went to the authorities and strongmen of this time. Until today they continue to disregard defending the oppressed and they scramble to serve the authority that is in place.

Today, April 23, is the feast of Saint George. George, who was an officer in the army of the Roman Empire, refused to offer sacrifices to the authority that was in place at that time and he ended as a martyr. He did not resist evil with evil. Rather, he was pleased to be stripped of his weapons-- that is, stripped of his authority. He did not strive to put anyone in authority and he did not serve anyone in authority. He did not strive for power, even though he could have started a revolution because he realized that authority might corrupt one who attains it. He did not want to be a murderer, a spiller of blood, or a theif.... So he abandoned everything and bore his cross, the cross of his Lord, and he walked upright with his head held high.

When will the people stop choosing the theif and the murderer and elect a just and righteous person? If there is no one to whom these qualities apply, then why are religious leaders concerned with demanding something that is none of their business? Let the dead bury their dead and let those concerned with the election elect someone in their image and likeness.

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