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For a kid growing up in an Italian-Catholic household in 1970s New England, the Lenten season wasn’t a whole lot of fun. It wasn’t supposed to be. For a month and a half, you were required to give up something that you liked. Friday night dinners always meant fish. And, every other night, or so it seemed, you had to go to mass. And these masses were not the ordinary Sunday affairs: there might be ashes, incense, holy water, or palm fronds, the sermons and the readings were extra long, and sometimes, you had to engage in a ritualized call and response with the priest in which your role was to choose the reprobate Barabbas over Jesus Christ.
No kid really understands adult concepts like hindsight, context, and tyranny. And being a kid, I refused to join in that portion of the ritual, to choose Barabbas, a thief and a murderer, over Christ. I just could not understand how anyone would make such a choice. But, as an adult, I understand it well: Occam’s Razor.
Judea, in the time of Christ, was a Roman-occupied province. The Judeans were chafing under the yoke of a government that they viewed as tyrannical and that viewed them as the enemy. Worse still, the Judeans’ own ruling elites were, at best, complicit. However, Barabbas, the thief and the murderer, was also an insurrectionist. So when the Judeans were offered the choice between some guy who chafed at Rome’s tyranny as much as they did, and some guy accused of claiming to be the Messiah, I could imagine that that choice would be a rather easy one to make: for this Christ guy to actually be the Messiah and not just some madman, that would take a miracle, and miracles are exceedingly rare, so, “give us Barabbas.”