The following imaginary conversation between Jesus and Barabbas takes place in Franco Zeffirelli’s movie ‘Jesus of Nazareth‘. Earlier in the movie Amos, a Zealot freedom fighter, has been executed by the Romans. Now Barabbas comes to meet Jesus at the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem. Here is the conversation, taken straight from the movie; although it does not appear anywhere in the gospels, I think it is a very plausible imagining of how such an encounter might have played out – and it has obvious implications for the way in which much of the Church has made its peace with violence.
Barabbas: ‘Master, I am Barabbas, a Zealot. Before he was murdered Amos sent word to us, he said to trust you. My brothers are ready, and some of them are temple guards. Our day of revenge against the Romans has come. Every day their grip becomes tighter. Our people have grown used to oppression, but with you to lead them, and with our swords behind you, they will rise up – we can teach them to fight. Some of the priests and Sadducees have said “Obey the laws of Caesar”, but they do not speak for the Jewish people. Tell us what to do. Whatever you say, we’ll follow you’.
Jesus: ‘Then love your enemies, and forgive those who use and persecute you. The day of forgiveness is at hand’.
Barabbas: ‘Forgive Herod? Forgive the Romans?’
Jesus: ‘Forgive them all’.
Barabbas: ‘But – the Romans have butchered hundreds of innocent people – old people, young people – lives ended without mercy, without trial! Surely you can’t mean to forgive that, Master? We must meet the sword with the sword!’
Jesus: ‘All who take up the sword will perish by the sword!’
Barabbas: ‘But we must end the voice of weeping in Israel!’
Jesus: ‘Barabbas! Your zeal blinds you to the truth! The new Jerusalem will not be built by murder and uprising. The wisdom of God will fill the land as water fills the sea. The lion will lie down with the lamb; there’ll be no more killing or destroying. And the voice of weeping shall be heard no more’.
Barabbas: ‘But – while we wait for that day to come, our people live in mourning and lamentation’. (he gets up to go).
Jesus: ‘Barabbas – do you wish to follow me? I have come to take on my shoulders the sins of the world. He who would follow me must do the same’.
Barabbas: ‘Oh no!’