Yester-day at Mass (Ordinary Form, about the best that can be expected in a provincial city) we heard read the Passion according to St Luke. There was no homily afterward; after all, what more can be said? The Gospel speaks for itself; if one has no response to the Passion, one must have a heart of stone.
What struck me? That I am Barabbas – indeed, every man is. I, Barabbas, a rioter and murderer, justly imprisoned, rightly condemned, am released, while Christ, innocent and undefiled, suffers in my place. Talk about vicarious atonement!
Now of necessity he [Pilate] was to release unto them one upon the feast day. But the whole multitude together cried out, saying: Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas: who, for a certain sedition made in the city, and for a murder, was cast into prison. And Pilate again spoke to them, desiring to release Jesus. But they cried again, saying: Crucify him, crucify him. And he said to them the third time: Why, what evil hath this man done? I find no cause of death in him. I will chastise him therefore, and let him go. But they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified; and their voices prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him who for murder and sedition, had been cast into prison, whom they had desired; but Jesus he delivered up to their will. (St Luke xxiii, 17-25)
For being a poor fallen man, am I not a riot of unrestrained, disordered passions? And have I not all too often given way and caused a melée or affray? Have I not brought sin and trouble into Jerusalem, that is, the Church? Have I not been a cause of sedition, by my turning away from God? Have I not revolted against the good order of society natural and supernatural? Have I not opposed due order? Am I worthy of living in Jerusalem, that is, in grace, in heavenly peace? No! I am stained with the contagion of sin and sinful passions. Am I not, still more gravely, my brother's murderer, having given way to hate, when I should have instead been ever my brother's keeper? Do I not bear the mark of Cain? For such reasons, justly am I removed from the City of God, and kept imprisoned, having made liberty an excuse for lawlessness. A shameless criminal am I.
St John tells us that Barabbas was a robber (xviii, 40), and so am I, for sin is robbery, depriving God of the glory due Him, wickedly insulting the Divine Majesty, and paying to creatures what is not their right. Barabbas, then, is unquestionably a malefactor, a doer of evil; while Christ, Who "went about doing good", is our greatest Benefactor – not least by the wondrous deed He wrought of expiating our sins by taking them upon Himself, and bearing their weight upon the Cross of pain.
By the inscrutable Providence of God the Father, the wicked machinations of evil men lead to His Son dying in my stead. A most unexpected turn for the better, a eu-catastrophe, results! Deicide, rather than provoking the damnation of all men, instead most strangely reconciles and saves all who will acknowledge themselves sons of God and free. I, who am Barabbas, Bar-Abbas, a "son of the Father" gone astray, still bear (wounded) God's image and likeness; and as His Onlybegotten Son, my brother whom I slew by sin, has died for me, I am set free and redeemed.
It was a significant custom that Pilate followed in releasing one upon the feast: for was not Passover the celebration of unexpected and as it were unmerited liberation from bondage?
Why is the Passion read on Palm Sunday anyway? Because Good Friday not being a Holy Day of Obligation (I recall the obligation to attend Divine service on Good Friday was abolished in 1612 or thereabouts), on Palm Sunday the Passion is read, so that for those who next come to Mass on Easter Sunday, they will first hear this sobering truth – that God the Son came and died for us in our place – before next week hearing gladly the good tidings of the next event in the saving deeds of God Incarnate – the Resurrection.
Having died the death for our sins, Christ rises again for our justification.