This year for our Holy Week Tenebrae service, I was invited to present a reflection. Here is a transcript of my brief talk, reflecting on the text of Mark 15: verses 1 – 15 — the trial of Jesus, culminating in the people demanding the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus.
I saw a political cartoon recently which seemed to perfectly combine current events with our present liturgical season. A Catholic priest, in full vestments, probably for an Easter vigil mass, addresses a group of politicians. He asks the politicians, “Do you reject Satan? And all his works, and all his empty promises?” And the politicians all respond, “I do. But I will support him if he is the nominee.”
It is worth remembering that the Jewish people of Jesus’ time expected a lot of their Messiah. They wanted a great leader – a king who would rise up, overthrow the Romans, take back their country, make Israel great again!
They had hoped Jesus would be that leader but he proved a disappointment. His promise of a renewed Kingdom was not about political revolution, but about personal commitment. Something that comes not from getting rid of the bad guys and making “them” change – but from getting rid of our own evils and changing ourselves. So at this point his approval ratings have bottomed out.
But now, here’s Barabbas. A revolutionary, arrested for murder – so we know he’s a man of action! Good action or bad; such nuances are generally lost on the disaffected mob. The point is, he’ll get things done.
I’m reminded of the Catholic activist Dorothy Day, who in her youth was a political radical and a Communist before her conversion to Catholicism. She came to understand that changing the world, making it a better place, has less to do with the people in charge – and everything to do with each of us. Less to do with social or political revolution, and everything to do with a personal, internal revolution. She wrote:
The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.’