PART II CHAPTER 18:
FREEDOM AND SUBSTITUTION
And Abraham took the ram, and offered him up…in the stead of his son.
But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
---Paul (Romans 5:8)
He could hardly believe his ears. Was it really he whom the crowd was calling for? How could this be? Perhaps he had more sympathizers than he realized. Were they really going to set him free? After all his schemes and pleadings had failed, this was too good to be true. But it was true. A soldier came over to him, untied his hands, and said: “O.K. you’re free to go.”
He was certain he was happiest man alive at that moment. As he began to descend the praetorium stairs, he chanced to look back and see there the strange looking man in the black tunic. He leaned toward him and cupped his hands. “Whatever you did,” he said, “thanks. Thanks a lot.”
But,” the man uttered, “I did nothing.”
As he strutted past the cheering crowd, he felt overwhelmed with the wonder of the moment. Then he sighted his two partners in crime being led by the soldiers to their fate. The older mendicant was scoffing at the younger one unmercifully. But Timotheus only stared at the ground, lost in thought.
The words of the one and the thoughts of the other were interrupted by Barabbas’ gleeful words. “Hey, fellows! Guess what? I’m free! I’m free!” The two stared inquisitively. “That’s right! You know the custom. One criminal is freed each year.--well, they wanted me, Barabbas!”
“You lucky bum!” scorned Lucas.
As they were being led onward, Timotheus found himself becoming angry and resentful. Why did some people get all the breaks? What was the use? Where had this blubbering insurrectionist, or the mysterious Nazarene, or anyone or anything else gotten him? He was fainthearted, frustrated and infuriated. He wanted to let loose the amalgamation of confusion and resentment that was boiling inside of him. So he yelled--a long piercing yell. Sighting Barabbas haughtily departing, he added at the top of his lungs the words so recently spoken by Lucas, “You lucky bum!” The hills echoed the words.
This served only to heighten the pride and rapture which Barabbas felt, a rapture, however soon to fade into nothingness at the realization of events too rapidly transpiring. The people had demanded death for this one upon whom he had built his final hope of insurrection. His cause had met its final doom. Yet, the stranger at the court seemed to be dying for some noble and just cause above and beyond that of insurrection. What a way to die!
Meanwhile, Deborah and the children had not heard what happened. News traveled slowly in those days, but it did travel. Finally, she received a visit from one of Barabbas’ old customers. “Well, ma’am,” he said, haltingly, after the usual greetings, “I happened to be passing by the praetorium the other day, and as I passed by the front holding cell, I saw your husband inside. I guess they finally caught him for that try at insurrection. Several people who were there when it happened told me they recognized him. That sure was a foolish thing he did, tryin’ to go against Pilate.” As tears began coming to her eyes, he caught himself. “Oh, sorry ma’am, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I know how much you must be suffering.”
“That’s quite all right, John. Thanks for telling me.” She remained calm until the man left, but then she started to cry. The children tried to comfort her.
“Don’t cry, Momma.”
“Yeah, at least we know where Daddy is.”
“Yeah! We can go see him, can’t we?”
“Of course,” she agreed. “Let’s go see your daddy.”
As they were walking along the lane that led from their house to the main street, their saddened faces to the ground, they heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Looking up, they couldn’t believe their eyes. Was it really he?
Seeing them, he called out to them. “Deborah! Children!”
“Barabbas! Is that really you?”
“Daddy! Jason, it’s Daddy!”
“Daddy! Daddy! Is it really you, Daddy?”
They met and they hugged him, one by one.
“But what happened? I heard you were in jail.”
“I was. But they released me.” They started walking back home as they talked. “You know the custom of releasing one prisoner every year at Passover. Well, they chose me. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t get over it. I certainly don’t deserve it. But I’m sure glad. You don’t know how glad I am to see you all again, especially you, my dear.”
“The same here.” They stopped to steal a brief kiss. This time the children were silent.
“But I thought you were going to remain in hiding. How did they catch you?”
By this time they had almost arrived at the house. “I’ll tell you inside.”
“I’ll get your slippers, Daddy!”
“No, I want to.”
“I’ll get the water and help wash your feet.”
“I wanna help wash Daddy’s feet.”
Deborah cleared her throat loudly and yelled, “Now, children, there’ll be no bickerin’ over who does what. I’ll just assign someone. Daddy’ll be here with us now for good, I hope. So there’ll be plenty of time for all of you to get his slippers and wash his feet. For now, Caleb will get the slippers, Jason will bring the water and Ruth will help wash Daddy’s feet. How’s that?”
Barabbas sighed. “You’re the perfect peacemaker, Deborah!” He kissed her again.
“And I’m going to make you the best lunch you’ve ever had.”
“At least it will be the best lunch I’ve had in a long time.”
By now Jason had brought the water and Caleb the slippers. “O.K. Ruth, he’s all yours.”
Deborah went to the kitchen and hurriedly started pulling things out. “I’ll try to hurry as much as possible, but you know this was quite unexpected.”
“That’s all right, dear. Take your time. I’ve gotten quite used to waiting for my meals.”
Soon the meal was ready.
“Wow! This really is a great lunch! Deborah, you have outdone yourself.”
They ate in silence for a while, Barabbas savoring every bite. Then, Deborah again brought up the question of his capture. “Do you want to tell us now how you were caught, dear?”
“Really Deborah! I would prefer to wait till after lunch. I’m not at all sure, either, that it’s something the children should hear. So, I’ll wait until after they’ve gone to play as well.”
“But, Daddy, I wanna hear about your capture.”
“Yeah, Daddy, why can’t we hear?”
“Now, children, if your daddy says you shouldn’t hear about it, then you shouldn’t hear about it. Now that’s that, and not another word about it!”
When the children were all at play he sat with his wife in the living room and gave a huge sigh.
“What’s the matter, darling? Don’t you want to tell me about it?”
“Oh, it’s not that. It’s just that I feel so ashamed. I’ve sinned greatly, Deborah. I don’t know if God can ever forgive me.”
“For leading the insurrection? You were only doing what you thought was right. I know that I was against it at the time, but I’ve come to realize that you did have some reasons for it. I mean, with the ever-rising taxes, and all--”
“Oh, Deborah, how kind of you to say so. But I’m not talking only of the insurrection, although that was bad enough. I did kill a man in the fighting, but I guess that could be chalked up to the casualties of war. What I’m talking about is what happened afterward. I was out of money, hungry, and tired of living on berries and roots. So I decided to commit a robbery. All of my men were against it. They all decided to try going home. I thought that too risky at the time since I was the leader and undoubtedly recognized by many people.”
“But a robbery, Barabbas! You know better than that. And, didn’t you think that would be risky too?”
“Perhaps I wasn’t thinking too clearly. But I worked out what I thought was a perfect plan. I enlisted the aid of two street mendicants and we robbed the cloth shop. Most people were out paying tribute to a new self-proclaimed king who was riding into town. So we would have gotten away with it. But the shopkeeper resisted my efforts to tie him up. I kept getting more and more infuriated. I don’t know what came over me, Deborah, but before I know it, I was plunging my knife into his chest. I killed him, Deborah. I killed an innocent man! His piercing scream is what alerted the roman soldiers and brought about our arrest.”
“Oh, Barabbas! How could you ever have done such a thing? It’s not at all like you. It’s not like the Barabbas I know.”
“I’ve asked myself that question a million times since. I’ve excused the killing of the soldier in the rebellion as part of the insurrection attempt. But perhaps one killing softened me to be able to kill again. Oh, Deborah, I feel terrible when I think about it. I was so happy to be free, but now that I’m here and thinking about what I’ve done, I know I don’t deserve my freedom. I’m a robber and a murderer. How could they have chosen me to release? Why didn’t they choose him? He didn’t do anything worthy of death?”
“Who? Who are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the Nazarene who claimed to be king. I believe his name is Jesus.”
“You mean Jesus the prophet? The children and I went to see him to see if he could tell us when you’d be home. He didn’t make any specific prophecy, and yet I found his words very comforting and enlightening.”
“Well, he’s the one who should be free--not me! And they’re crucifying him now.” Suddenly he stood up. “Deborah, I’m going to Mt. Calvary.” He started toward the door.
“But, Barabbas, why? You just got home. Why are you going out already?”
“I must go, Deborah. I must see this man who is taking my place.”
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