Jesus & Barabas
March 22, 2015
Back in 1985, the editors at Sports Illustrated magazine realized that the release date for one of their editions that year would be on April Fool’s Day. As a result, they asked writer George Plimpton to do a story about some of the most famous April Fool’s Day jokes in the history of sports. When he did the research, however, George Plimpton couldn’t find many good examples. So, rather than writing a story about famous April Fool’s Day jokes, he created a fictional store that was an April Fool’s Day joke of his own.
The story, which appeared in the April 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated, was about an amazing baseball prodigy by the name of Sidd Finch. According to the article, Finch had been raised in an English orphanage before being adopted by an archeologist. He was said to be very intelligent, having gone to Harvard for a while, and he was very talented. According to the article, not only was he a baseball prodigy but he was also a great musician and if things didn’t work out in baseball, Sidd Finch was said to be considering a career playing the French horn.
In terms of baseball, Finch was said to be able to throw 168 miles an hour, have great control of his pitches and was in training with the New York Mets. The Mets, who knew about the joke, had even provided a fake uniform and locker that had Finch’s name on it. They were used in pictures that accompanied the article and gave credence to the accuracy of the story.
As you might imagine, folks bought the tale, hook, line and sinker. New York Mets fans were beside themselves with joy. Newspapers and television stations in New York were disappointed that Sports Illustrated had beaten all of them to the story and had gotten the scoop first. ABC, CBS and NBC all dispatched reporters to cover the great Sidd Finch, baseball prodigy, in person. But, by April 15, over two weeks later, everyone knew that the story was nothing but an elaborate joke. (Sidd Finch entry in Wikipedia.com)
The story of Sidd Finch, like Orsen Well’s War of the Worlds is a reminder of how gullible we as humans can be and how easily we are fooled. In the end, often times, we are not as smart as we think that we are and we quickly give ourselves over to fool’s gold rather than to the real thing.
This truth is nowhere more vivid than in the biblical story of Jesus and Barabbas. As you will remember from our text from a few moments ago, when Jesus was arrested, the Roman governor of Judea named Pontius Pilot thought he had an out. It was the custom of the time for the Jewish people to be allowed to ask for a prisoner to be released during their annual celebration of Passover. It was a way in which newfound freedom for a prisoner paralleled their remembrance of the Israelite release from captivity in Egypt during the Exodus.
Pilot just knew that the people would choose Jesus who really had done nothing wrong. But instead, according to the gospels, they chose a Jewish rebel named Barabbas. Matthew’s account of the same story informs us that his actual full name was Jesus Barabbas. This is what makes it such a haunting story. The people had a chance to choose the real Jesus, Jesus the Christ, and instead they chose an imitation, one called Jesus Barabbas.
The real Jesus talked of love, grace, mercy and God’s care for all people. The fake Jesus wanted to use violence to overturn the Romans and to achieve Jewish independence at any cost. The real Jesus was focused on the spirit. The fake Jesus was driven by material needs and the loss of power. The real Jesus was focused on calling people to plan for eternity, the fake Jesus invited the people to only be concerned about the here and now.
Without question, the crowd that day was easily swayed. They were gullible. It didn’t take much to fool them.
But the truth is, we don’t do much better in our own choices today. We are quick to choose retaliation over grace. We are prone to be swayed by our physical and material needs more than by our spiritual ones. And, we too are very susceptible to only worry about the moment rather than paying attention to how our lives and decisions are preparing us for eternity.
Like the crowd that day, we are equally gullible. It doesn’t take much to fool us either.
In the end, what we must say is that the crowd in Jesus’ day was after the same thing that we are after today – salvation, hope, peace and joy. Yet, in the end, when it came to choosing which Jesus gave them the best chance of fulfilling their dreams they were fooled into making a poor choice.
To put it bluntly – so are we. We are fooled into believing that our wealth will give us hope. We are fooled into believing that what defines us as a person is what we do for a living, where we live or who our friends are. We too take the bait and believe that the endeavors of this life are more capable of meeting our quest for joy than the work of the kingdom. Time and time again, day after day, we choose the wrong source of our salvation.
Matthew 16:26 has Jesus saying it this way, “what good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Amen.