He had come in fear and confusion. He had come out of a strange sense of compulsion. Somehow he knew he had to come, although he wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He only knew that, as he had told Deborah, he had to come and see this one who was taking his place.
As he walked up that hill, his sense of guilt and shame almost overwhelmed him. He knew that even though he had escaped the justice of this world, there was a greater judgment ahead in the world to come and he feared this more than anything. He had told God he was sorry for his sins. He’d said it perhaps a million times since that fatal night. But somehow the heavens seemed like brass. Was there no way to find forgiveness and peace?
As he stood there and watched them drive the nails into those hands, he noticed a sense of calmness in the midst of agony on the Nazarene’s face. Then, as he heard those enduring words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” it was as if those words were meant for him alone. He knew they were not. He knew they were meant for the soldiers who were driving in the nails, but somehow, it seemed that he, Barabbas, must be included in their meaning as well. After all, it was he who should be being nailed to that cross. Surely this man was taking his place in a far greater way than he had first realized. A man who could pray for the forgiveness of those driving the nails into his hands– must not this be the Messiah? Then, he raised his eyes upward and caught sight of the inscription nailed above the cross, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS.” The Messiah would be king, wouldn’t he? But where was his kingdom? Why, of course, it had to be in the hearts of men like himself.
He watched as the Nazarene hung there, suspended between heaven and earth, calmly submitting to the pain of crucifixion, as if he knew he was meant to die. But then, he heard the agonizing cry, lifted to heaven, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Was this man forsaken of God? Could it be? But, why? Then, it struck him. He had always been taught that God was holy and could not look upon sin. If this man was really the Messiah, then perhaps he was bearing the sins of the people upon him. He was bearing his, Barabbas’, sin upon him. Yes, that was it. Then, he, Barabbas, was really forgiven. He was forgiven of the insurrection, of killing the soldier, of the robbery attempt, of killing Benjamin, and of every other sin he had ever committed in his life – of getting angry with his wife and children of—-of—-of—-he was forgiven! This was wonderful! Now he really knew what it was to feel good.
He didn’t know how long he stayed there kneeling, lost in the rapture of his new-found faith and peace. Then, he remembered that he had told Deborah he wouldn’t be gone long, so he got up to leave.
As he was making his way down the hill, he noticed another figure just ahead of him, walking slowly down the hill. The black robe and white belt looked familiar. As he picked up his pace, he realized that it was indeed the strange looking man who had first confronted him on the idea of insurrection. Coming upon him, he smiled and saluted him. “Shalom!”
“So, you returned to view the crucifixion? Quite impressive, isn’t it?”
“Oh, it’s much more than that! It has changed my life. I have a joy and peace I’ve never known before.”
“What do you mean?”
“That man on the middle cross. Not only did he take my place, but I’m certain he’s the Messiah, the true king of the Jews, as the sign says. When he asked God to forgive, I felt somehow it was for me, as well as for the soldiers who were driving in the nails.”
“You know, I too felt there was something about him, although I couldn’t understand what. Perhaps you’re right. But if he is a king—-”
“Then,” interrupted Barabbas, “his kingdom is a spiritual one, in the hearts of those who will believe in him.”
“But, is he the king of the Jews only? Or is his kingdom broader than that?”
“It must be broader. It must be for all who will believe.”
“You know, it’s really fortunate we ran into each other. I have been searching all my life for spiritual truth. Perhaps now, I’ve found it. Tell me more.”
“All I know is that as I knelt at his cross, I felt that I had been forgiven by God of all my sins, and I felt a peace and joy I’ve never known. I accepted him as king of my life.”
“I shall do the same. Yes, this must be the answer to my quest. Thank you for telling me. Perhaps I shall go back up and kneel before him.”
“Goodbye, my friend. If I never see you again in this life, I’m sure we shall meet in the next. By the way, I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Manaheem. Goodbye.”
And so the strange looking man made his way back up the hill, while Barabbas made his way down.
A FEW MINUTES LATER, at the foot of the cross: “How wonderful to have found what I’ve been looking for at last. Can it really be true? Are you really the Messiah? Then that would mean that your claim to be the Son of God is true. You were here among us and we didn’t know it. And you give us forgiveness and peace? I need your forgiveness. I’ve been deceiving myself all my life. I said I was looking for spiritual truth, but I’ve had an attitude of superiority towards other people, just because I dared to be different. Perhaps I never should have gone along with Herod’s idea of finding someone to instigate an insurrection against Pilate. At any rate, I was wrong to blackmail Herod just because he didn’t want to pay for an unsuccessful insurrection attempt. I’m sorry, and I’ll return what’s left of the money to Herod tomorrow. Oh my new king, I shall try to follow you always in my heart. The future may still be uncertain, but at least now, I know what direction I’m going in. I too, like Barabbas, have found the true source of all peace and joy, which gives real meaning to life. Now nothing else matters.”
WHEN HE ARRIVED HOME, he greeted the children at their play. “Daddy, Daddy, you’re home!”
“Are you home to stay now, Daddy?”
“Yes, darlings, I’m home to stay.”
Once inside, he greeted his loving wife with a kiss and told her, excitedly, “Deborah, darling, it’s really Him! I’m sure of it!”
“Barabbas! Whatever are you talking about?”
“The man on the middle cross, Deborah– the man who took my place. He really is the Messiah, the king of the Jews! As I listened to his dying words, I had no doubt of it. His compassion, his forgiveness, his—his—Deborah, if you’d have been there, I’m sure you’d have felt it too! Deborah, I’ve given my heart to him and I feel at peace for the first time in my life. Whatever it means, I’m going to serve him the rest of my life.”
“That’s wonderful, darling. You know, somehow I had a feeling about him too, that day the children and I went to see him, and he said, ‘Allow the children to come to me, because of such is the kingdom—.’ But, Barabbas, how can you serve a dead man?”
“I don’t know, Deborah, but somehow I have a feeling that he’s not going to stay dead for very long.”
She shrugged, half in confusion and half in an unexplained acceptance of his strange remark. “Whatever, you say, my dear. Whatever you say. Now come here you big hunk!”
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