Free Barabbas

October 22, 2009

Well, the enormous post about rational choice didn’t happen, did it? Been reading like mad for the last couple of days, and in the process found some more stuff to talk about. Namely: the logic of comparison, and multiculturalism. It’s great. I’m not doing a whole lot of anything tomorrow– at the moment– so hopefully I’ll get some posts up about these topics. Really fascinating stuff, I promise.

Now then, to the title: during a break between lecture and seminar today I stopped in at Common Grounds to have a latte. (Yes, plain. I’m predictable.) In the restroom is a poem on canvas, and I decided to read it. Now, some of it was illegible, since it was painted on the canvas in a handwriting style, but it served to situate Common Grounds within its neighborhood. The most interesting thing to me was the final line: “And on the wall, painted in graffitti FREE BARABBAS.”

Since I don’t know the complete poem due to illegibility, I’m still a bit baffled at how this ties together the poem– the context in which this line sits. My speculation is that the line comments on the mission of Common Grounds– profits go to charity– since Barabbas was a captive set free. Even despite that, the line kept working on me as I sat drinking the coffee and reading.

Free Barabbas.

And then it hit me: I’ve never heard a sermon focusing on Barabbas. Any mention of him is (justifiably) in the context of Jesus going to the cross and is a small story compared to Jesus being killed. But think about it for a second. When Pilate sent Jesus to the cross, Jesus replaced a criminal. And not just any criminal, a violent, insurrectionist criminal. Can you see the metaphor? This is a layer to the story that I have never heard discussed in deeper detail. I’m not normally a big fan of the idea of substitutionary atonement, but this circumstance squares with N.T. Wright’s idea that Jesus on the cross was God’s way of showing Israel that its path was leading them to ruin. Jesus then, symbolically, took the punishment Israel was due, and showed the new way forward.

It is moments like this I wish we knew what happened to Barabbas post-crucifixion. Seems ripe for a revisionist parable. Anyway, I need more time to think this over and mull through the implications.

Have you any comments?


3 Responses to “Free Barabbas”

  1. Jessie said

    I’ve never heard of that being talked about either– not like that anyway. That’s some interesting insight, if you ask me. Hm.

    Also: the part about the latte made me smile.

  2. firescloudsandwanderings said


    I’ll spend some time thinking about it more . . . you really have my mind churning now. I’m with you – the substitutionary atonement doesn’t really strike a chord with me. You would think proponents of the doctrine would jump all over this example. But I’ve never heard anybody use it. Also, enjoying your blog.

  3. mk said

    Ever read _Barabbas_ by Par Lagerkvist? Great novelization of the Barabbas story. I’ll keep thinking.

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