I don’t remember much of my father, but I do recall his telling me to always stand up for my rights as a Jew, and to never let people take advantage of me or my people. Long after he had been beaten to death, his lifeless body thrown from a cliff by a group of random, drunken, Roman soldiers, I finally became a man. With that, I vowed to devote the remainder of my days to fighting the vicious, heavy-handed rule of the Roman government.
“If you insist on taking my life,” I’ve told more than one soldier assigned to guard my people, “I shall not be the only one to die that day.”
My wife, my mother and even my children begged me to stop, or at least slow down, stay low, stay hidden. But that’s not my way.
My name is Jesus Barabbas. In my native tongue, I am called Yeshua Bar ʾAbbaʾ, or “son of the father.” Ironic, considering the only Son of the Heavenly Father would take my place in a criminal’s execution.
But more on this in a bit.
People felt safe under my charge, or as safe as one can feel in this wrathful age. Thus, we took in family and friends who had lost their homes or livelihood for one reason or another. It became difficult to feed and house them all, so I fell in with a group of bandits, to try and care for everyone.
One day we were on our way to a house which we knew was occupied by followers of the so-called “insurrectionist,” Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph. We planned to loot anything of value, since we knew He taught in the temple each Sabbath. As I tried to sneak through the crowd, however, I looked up for just a brief moment, and Jesus was staring at me.
His eyes were so intense, so deep and caring, like pools of healing streams, and I heard him say:
“The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers, and to say, ‘This is the year the Lord has chosen.’” (1)
I stopped. There was something about him, I couldn’t put it into words. Something revolutionary, yet so tender. I couldn’t take another step.
“Barabbas, keep moving!” one of my group said furiously, but I shook my head and remained there. He sighed deeply, obviously annoyed, but stood by me. We were friends, and he was one of my protectors.
Before I realized what was happening, the people grew restless and irate, and turned on the teacher. They began to drag him toward a cliff, to throw him off, and at that moment something rose up within me.
“Let him be!” I screamed, and began to fight the people. Jesus had slipped away, somehow, but I was enraged, and my fellow bandits followed suit.
They had heard me talk about the teacher, and while some didn’t share my affection for his words of love and peace, they were loyal to me. I also greatly admired the way Jesus stood up for his ideals, even while the insufferably constricted Pharisees threatened him.
When the crowd noticed Jesus was no longer there, they turned on me. Before I knew what was happening, I was the one being dragged toward the cliff.
“Like my father before me,” I kept thinking as they clawed, scratched and beat me.
My brothers somehow managed to free me, and we began to fight our way out. At some point, a group of soldiers interfered, trying to maintain order. I was preparing to slip away when I noticed Hazael, a young man whose parents had died, and whom I’d taken in as a son, being beaten by a soldier.
I grabbed a rock, came up behind the soldier, and struck him with all my might. The man crumpled to the ground, and I grabbed Hazael and tried to flee.
Other soldiers had witnessed my act of “betrayal,” however, and, after administering a sound thrashing to the lot of us, arrested me and my compatriots. While in prison, I heard grumblings of my exploits being admired by followers of the teacher. They didn’t approve of my stealing, of course, and violently taking the life of the Roman soldier (even if others thought he deserved it), but they admired my passion.
I had heard stories of one of the teacher’s disciples, Peter, who was also short-tempered. Yes, I’d heard about him, but never would have guessed he and I would eventually be working together in spreading this new “rebellion” of love.
But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
My friends and I were rotting away in that cramped cell when a soldier called my name through the bars.
“Barabbas!” he shouted. “You are to stand before Pilate!”
“What would the regional leader of the Roman Army want with me?” I laughed, and was greeted with a strike to the face by the soldier. I was dragged, half out of my wits from the blow, into the sunlight. I squinted against the blinding sun.
How long had it been since I’d felt its warmth?
I then noticed an angry mob in the streets, and the teacher—in chains, half naked, bruised and beaten—staring at me. His sentence had not yet been carried out, but it was obvious to all, the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers had already started carrying out a sentence of their own.
The world stopped.
“You always release a prisoner during the Passover Feast!” they were yelling.
Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to set free for you the King of the Jews?”
Suddenly the crowd erupted angrily, demanding I be released.
“GIVE US BARABBAS!” they insisted.
What was happening?
Pilate, looking at me, confused and nervous, asked the crowd, “Then what shall I do with him whom you call the King of the Jews?”
They screamed back, “Crucify Him!”
Crucify?! What could the teacher ever have done to deserve a murderer’s death?
WHAT HAD HE DONE TO DESERVE MY DEATH???!!!!
I’d watched him teach. I’d witnessed him laugh and play with the children. I’d marveled as he performed miracles. It was widely known the Pharisees had been plotting against him, and apparently they were now carrying out their evil plan.
Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?”
But they screamed all the louder, “Crucify him!”
So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, set me free; and after having Jesus scourged, handed him over to his soldiers to be crucified. (2)
This is the simplicity of my newfound brothers’ explanation of that day’s events. I was free. Jesus was to die a criminal’s death.
While Jesus said nothing to me before his death, his eyes spoke volumes. Even with his face bruised and blood-caked, portions of his beard missing, his eyes said, “I love you.”
His eyes said, “I forgive you.”
It’s those eyes I look forward to seeing once more! I can’t wait to lock eyes with my teacher, my friend, my Savior!!
But that terrible day, when he was crucified, I followed him all the way up the hill. I tried to stop it, God help me I tried to stop it! The soldiers kept hitting me, though, and eventually had to temporarily restrain me.
“Keep it up and you’ll rejoin your friends in that stinking prison cell!” they laughed.
People kept kicking him. Beating him. Mocking him. Laughing at him. After a while I could take it no more, and covered my ears, my eyes burning with tears.
“Stop it!” I shouted! “This man has done nothing but love you!!! He’s forgiven you! He’s healed your friends and family! He’s fed you when you were hungry! He’s shown compassion when none was deserved! How can you kill him?!”
My cries fell on deaf ears. When Jesus finally made it up the hill, I caught a glimpse of the one I later found out was his mother. Her face was swollen from grief, and she was in torment, watching her son being murdered, but somehow, could not avert her eyes.
“My…my son,” she kept stammering. “Please,” she wept, “don’t take my son.”
At once she cried from her soul, “DON’T TAKE MY SON!!!!”
But the soldiers laughed, mocked. “Shut up!” they cackled, “or you shall join him!!”
It was almost more than I could bear, but I had to watch. After all, he had taken my place.
“That should have been me,” I said aloud, and the one called “John,” whom Jesus loved so dearly, looked at me as my mother once had. “This should have been us all,” he moaned.
“And may be someday,” I spat angrily. “For I shall not let this go.”
“Forgiveness, brother,” he said, wrapping his gentle, tired arms around me. “Forgiveness,” and then moved closer to the cross.
Jesus cried out as the spikes began to be hammered through his flesh. His face winced in agony, and I shut my eyes tight, trying to block out the sight, only to open them moments later, yowling, sniveling, sobbing in torment.
After what seemed days, the cross was stood up straight, and Jesus cried out once more as it was dropped into a hole. I wept so bitterly into my prison garments, crying out to His Father, “This should have been me!”
“THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME!! PLEASE, TAKE ME!! I’M THE BANDIT!! I’M THE MURDERER!! WHAT HAVE I DONE THAT YOUR SON SHOULD TAKE MY PLACE??!!”
But this was love, in its purest form, that my Savior should die for me.
After the whole terrible affair, I was welcomed into the brotherhood, and have been there ever since. I have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, loved the unlovable and tried to do my best to pay back the debt I owe.
Finally, my brother Peter said, “The debt can never be paid back. The best we can do is live for him. Die for him.”
Which leads me to this day. I write to you from prison, once again, having come full circle. The events of which I speak happened many years ago, and I have watched as most of my blood family, as well as my Christian brothers and sisters, have been flogged, imprisoned and martyred for our Savior, Jesus, the Christ.
This is the blood debt I owe to my Lord, and I am happy to pay it. I am to be executed tomorrow come sunrise, and this bent, tired back is ready to lay down my burdens at the feet of my Jesus.
The one who took my place.
- Luke 4:18-19
- Mark 15
(A note about this short story. I have been raised to believe that Barabbas was a terrible person, morally, the opposite of Jesus. When I was reading one of the gospels today, however, I noticed that Barabbas was referred to as a revolutionary, and an insurrectionist. I did some research on him and found out that he was a part of some kind of rebellion in which he murdered a soldier. Sure, one of the gospels calls him a bandit, but some theorize that he went on to be one of the founding members of the first century Church. This is just a theory, and is not meant to be taken as fact, which is why I refer to this as a fictionalized, short story. I am not a theologian, so please don’t try and tear it apart theologically. Please just enjoy it for what it is, and be blessed.)