Friday, November 18, 2011

THE BARABBAS EFFECT or Why the Penn State Riots Occurred

 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" And they cried out again, "Crucify him." And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him." So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. (Mk. 6-14)


I am amazed by how human beings react when a revered person is found to be complicit in a crime. Many times people will justify their behavior or excuse it altogether. Never mind the person's guilt! He is bigger than that. We saw this happen when Penn State announced the firing of their long-time and successful coach, Joe Paterno! Several boys, and at this writing more are coming forward, were raped by Paterno's assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky. When Paterno heard an accusation against Sandusky, he 'kicked it upstairs' notifying the president of the university. But he did not report it to the police. At the news of Paterno's firing, the student body erupted into riots. Interestingly, no one rioted when it was becoming apparent that children had been harmed by a man responsible for their welfare employed by the university. They rioted when the head coach was fired! I call this the Barabbas Effect!


The Barabbas Effect states that people will defend, excuse or justify a criminal. Pilate was asked to execute Jesus on the charge of treason. Pilate could find no fault in Him. But as was tradition, Pilate released a prisoner before the Passover to mollify his Jewish subjects. He gave the people a choice, murderer or Jesus. Now Jesus had a reputation. He healed the sick, casted out demons, brought the dead back to life. But this was not enough to keep Him alive. The people chose the murderer. Even St. Matthew reports that Pilate wished to avoid a riot! (Mt. 27:24) How could the mob desire to have a man who may take another life be release? The answer is that each and every one of us wants to be excused for our crimes. We see in ourselves Barabbas. We may not have taken a life, but we have hated someone. We may not have committed adultery, but we have lusted. The list goes on. The Sermon on the Mount is about our guilty character!


I discovered the Barabbas Effect in my first year of ministry. I served under a pastor who hired a woman to be a hospitality minister. She was responsible for coordinating coffee hours and dinners. It was soon discovered that she was having an affair with the pastor when her husband discovered love notes from him in his home. A lot of people were angry when all of this was revealed. And a lot were very angry with the Bishop for removing the pastor from his position. I heard a stream of people within the parish complain about the Bishop's decision. Of the pastor, they said, "But he baptized my children." or, "He works so hard." Even one woman, a woman, blamed the pastor's wife for her husband's philandering! Nobody named the sin! Nobody complained of the use of the parish budget to compensate this woman. I was flabbergasted. And somehow, I became the bad guy all because I refused to support the pastor. 


In Anglican tradition, The Gospel of the Passion is read in parts by the congregation on Good Friday and by many parishes on Palm Sunday as well. The congregation as a whole plays the part of the crowd crying aloud, "Crucify Him!" We shout it because we want to see the man who is in every way like us be excused for his crimes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this 'cheap grace' or forgiveness without repentance. What the crowd in Pilate's time did not know was that this perfect man will stand in their place on the Cross for all of their sins. He will satisfy their debt to their Creator. The life we owe will be paid by someone else who is innocent of our crimes. 


"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24)


Do you see yourself in this video?