What Barabbas Taught Me About My Distracted Lent

When you read a beloved tragic story, do you ever hope that this time, in the climactic moment, a hero will swoop in and swing the falling action, spinning the denouement on its head?

I do. I can’t help but root (spoilers!) for Beth to recover, for Fred to live, and for Jack and Rose to spend their lives together. I want the story to keep going, for a miracle to happen, for the death to be reversed somehow.

I’ve read Jesus Christ’s passion in the Gospels countless times. It’s harrowing. The story builds quickly to an earth-shattering climax, and I find myself skimming the details.

Strikingly rich and yet befuddling, they sprinkle the background with quirky conversations and convoluted twists: the unridden foal, the tally of silver coins, the severed ear, the woman’s nightmare, the taste of vinegar.

I always thought of Barabbas as just one of those peculiar moments. Each time, I can’t help but hope that the crowd’s bloodthirst will be quenched by Pilate’s offering of Barabbas, and that Jesus will be released, freed from the punishment of torture and death.

In Matthew 27:15-16, we learn that “on the occasion of the feast [of Passover], the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.”

Persuaded by the corrupt chief priests and elders, the crowd asks for Barabbas to be released and Jesus, innocent, to be killed.

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This Lent has been full of distractions for me. I’m stressed out and heartbroken by current events. I’ve hosted houseguests, traveled across the country, and launched a blog. And for the first time, I’m raising an almost-six-month-old. Merely grasping the meaning of the season has been a struggle.

Yesterday morning, I joined some wonderful friends for Palm Sunday Mass. One of them asked me about my Lenten observance.

“Well, I started with a lot of high ambitions…” I admitted. She burst out laughing. “Don’t we all!”

Reflecting on the weeks since our last daily Rosary, the accidental Friday meat consumptions, and the general aloofness I feel toward this liturgical season, I confessed my failings last week. Our sweet young Polish priest encouraged me to, by the grace of God, finish Lent strong.

Going into Palm Sunday Mass, I silently asked for something out of the service to help me spiritually through Holy Week. Standing in Church, surrounded by another crowd echoing the clamor for Christ’s crucifixion and Barabbas’ freedom, the Holy Spirit answered my mute prayer with a moment of clarity.

Barabbas is not a cog, a hurdle, or a failed rescue plan. He IS the Plan.

Barabbas should have been punished, but Jesus came to take the place of sinners and criminals who deserved death. Barabbas was the first benefactor of the greatest sacrifice in history.

My Lent is not a failure. It’s a reminder that I am Barabbas. I’m moving freely into the Easter time of celebration and joy because Jesus took my place.

The tragedy of a beloved slipping away, failing time and time again to focus on the Lord, give him my burdens, and make the sacrifices of Lent, does not end the story.

Jesus is coming. Hosanna in the highest.

Has your Lent been distracted? Please tell me I’m not alone!