Freedom of choice is a treasured concept in 2013. We have bastardized and shrunk it, extrapolated it and expanded it. We have come to the point where the thing you have chosen is irrelevant, so long as you have chosen it. It's the idea of choosing itself that we're high on -- this is why we see people choosing silly, unnatural, and unhealthy things and them trumpeting them. We have become a nation of the kids in the back of the room, bored, jaded and unappreciative of our teachers and fellow students, only stimulated by the occasional choice to shock the class by throwing a spitball or openly using profanity. Our overfed ennui has had a nasty side effect: we have fetishized free will, so instead of celebrating our ability to freely choose God's perfect law and delight therein, we mourn the oppressive nature of religion and tradition and cheer for choices that natural law teaches us are perilous or simply a waste of our precious time.
A choice that makes my hackles rise no matter how many times I read it in Scripture or see it dramatized on the stage or screen is the choice made by the crowd facing Pontius Pilate. Every time I see it is like the first time. How can they choose to free Barabbas? As a little girl in my small Lutheran school, I would stare at the simple line illustration in my Good News Bible. There depicted was the crowd cheering "Free Barabbas!" and there was poor Jesus, the right choice that the majority didn't make. I would reflect on it and speak to Him in my own heart, "I would have yelled out for you, Jesus! Free Jesus!" The thought of my Savior tortured and killed was heartbreaking to me. If only they had all made the right choice. That was a child's understanding of theology. I didn't understand the "happy fault" that caused the fall. I didn't understand that Barabbas had to be freed for Jesus to pay my debt. That discernment would come later.
Still, today, I weave those past threads into the tapestry of our modern mindset. Who is your Barabbas? What or whom are you choosing over Jesus? Who is my Barabbas? It isn't comfortable to face that little parochial school girl in my mind's eye and tell her, "Hon, you are whipping Him, too." But the fact is that with every sin of omission, every moment of vanity, every morsel of gossip eagerly taken into my ear, every dollar spent on myself that could have gone to save someone's life, I am disobeying Him, and I am choosing Barabbas. The trick I play on myself is to say, "Just for this one time, I'll choose Barabbas. I'll choose Jesus tomorrow."
Every time we consciously sin, we instantly formulate a rationalizing narrative. We must set up this story so that we can go ahead with our sinful act. I make this sinful choice in this moment, but I still love Jesus yesterday, today, and forever! Oh, what fools we mortals be. We really think somehow Jesus will pencil whip that sin right off of our records. We take such advantage of His grace, watching and listening to, paying money for and speaking things He took the whip for, sins He bled for. But we wear the Christian cross, and think that talisman makes us different from the crowds who chose Barabbas. We think the crucifixion happened already; it's done. The magic has been worked, the debt paid, so we have some latitude because He loves us so very much. He paid it all, so we can have our little sins and our big sins, and still come home and pray to Him with a straight face.
I think of the expression I used to use with my high school students when one of them would let a curse word slip out in class. "You kiss your mother with that mouth?" Now the question has taken on a new significance for me. I have been trying with varying success to make all of my written and spoken language during Lent positive and pure. I have attempted to fast complaining, gossip, sarcasm, and any words that do not edify or would not please our Lord. I have had banner days and then I have had days where forty five minutes in I have felt my neck burn in shame at something I've uttered. Oh, Lord, guard the door of my lips. This is a Psalm I repeat often. My words are reality. The recipient could be changed by them. Lord, let them be pleasing to you! Do not let me abuse my free will to speak and write in ways that belittle others, that shrink from sharing your Truth, that elevate me at another's expense. Because, since my conversion, I kiss my Mother with this mouth. I approach the Blessed Virgin with this mouth in prayer, gaze at her with these eyes. Can I let them fall also on sinful images? On a television show or magazine advertisement that I would not "choose" if Jesus or His beautiful Mother and mine were seated beside me?
Working my way through Lent has been painful, exacerbated by not feeling well, and by mourning the loss of the Pope under whom I converted three years ago. Conversely, it has also been a Lent of great intimacy with Jesus and Mary. I have been relying more on the saints, new saints, unfamiliar ones. I have been talking to the Holy Spirit. I have been reaching out to touch my Guardian Angel. All of these movements in the dark create pinholes of light. Eventually I have reason to hope that they will come together to form THE light, the one in whom I can bask eternally. To see the face of Jesus, to tell Him, "I choose you over all else," that is my primary and overriding goal and dream. That is my aspiration and motivator.
So who or what is your Barabbas? What are you setting free into your life that is handing Jesus over to Pilate to die? Every single day we are in the crowd. Every day we have free will, the freedom to choose. Let's help each other to choose life, love, purity, generosity, smallness, humility, cheerfulness, encouragement. Let's not undo the chains and free the criminals of jealousy, unrest, profanity, lust, Schadenfreude, gossip, gluttony, pettiness, pride.
Identify your Barabbas, and then turn your back on him. Then look at the sweet face of our Jesus and say, "I choose you this day and for the rest of my life."