Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Choosing the right Jesus

IF THERE’S ONE thing that’s clear from the Gospel accounts, it’s that it is awfully easy to lose sight of the real Jesus. From the disciples thinking that He was a ghost when He came out to them walking on the water, to the followers who failed to recognize Him on the road to Emmaus, after His resurrection, there’s a rich tradition of people really close to Him somehow missing the real Savior. It’s a sobering thought.

It’s one thing to fail to recognize Him when He presents Himself in a manner we don’t expect or that is unfamiliar. It’s another when we miss Him because He doesn’t present Himself in the way we would like Him to. This came to mind when I was rereading the Easter story recently.

I was in Matthew 27, hovering at the back of the crowd at Pilate’s place. Desperate to find a way out of the charged situation, the governor tries to turn it into a sort of Jerusalem Idol. Playing to the annual tradition of freeing a prisoner of the people’s choice, he asks whether they want him to free Jesus or this other guy that is being held.

Maybe, like me, you’ve known this alternative pick for years as Barabbas, the leader of a failed revolt against the Roman occupiers. But my “aha” moment came in reading a different translation to my usual one. There he is identified as: Jesus Barabbas.

Oh my. Two Jesuses. And which one would I prefer? The crowd’s choice? The one who better fits my idea of what God’s promises of deliverance should look like? Who will use some muscle to give me what I want? He may break a few laws on the way, but hey, these oppressors deserve what’s coming their way. It’s payback time.

Or the other One. Who could have prevented His arrest, but didn’t (Matt. 26:53-56). Who wouldn’t answer straightforward questions (Matt. 27:14). Who Himself seemed to recognize, too late, that this way of surrender could only end in (at least apparent) defeat (Matt: 27:46).

If I’m really honest with myself, sometimes, when things aren’t going my way, I want Jesus Barabbas, the one who will come out swinging, the one whose name comes from Bar Abba, meaning “son of the father.”

It’s a descriptor that can be easy to confuse with the Son of the Father. But that title belongs to the other Jesus, the very different Jesus, the true Jesus. The incarnational, suffering servant; not the insurrectionist.

It’s all too easy to miss the difference. What separates Jesus (Barabbas) the son of the father from Jesus the Son of the Father is two shift-caps keystrokes. They capitalize: they raise Him up, whereby what seems like the ultimate failure becomes the greatest-ever triumph.

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