Sunday, April 1, 2012

Which 'Son of the Father' Do I Release To You?

I first wrote this 'reflection', if you will, a little over four years ago. Literary wordplay, the license of the writer as s/he crafts the story to be told or the point to be made, is an interesting thing that all of us, professionally or not, deal with when we communicate our thoughts, ideas, and stories to others.

The Bible as we know it today is the work of God and hundreds, maybe thousands of collaborators - and while these may include those individuals who have books named for them, there are many more. Then there are the translators and copyists - the latter who worked countless hours in far from ideal conditions copying the text by hand, in the days before Johannes Gutenberg invented moveable type and made it possible for documents and books to be printed.

When reading, a mental picture is drawn to put the text into perspective. Sometimes it can take several readings of a particular text to get the panoramic view which catches more than first meet the eye.

Nobody else has quite caught the same picture I framed at the time, a year before I took an introspective view of things. I had a lot to learn then...I am still learning. Still, I wonder...


There has been speculation on the crucifixion of Jesus for about as many years as have passed since it took place. The further we are removed from it by time, the more we speculate on what really happened and how it could possibly have taken place.

The Gospels, being the only detailed written accounts to survive, were written anywhere from 30-60 years after the fact. There were no TV cameras, no instant information 'superhighway'. The real highways, built by the occupying Roman Empire, were only recently established.

Ministers, historians, other writers, and filmmakers have cast their own thoughts and expressions into this mix, in an all but vain attempt to solidify what the evangelists wrote, and to fill in a plethora of blanks that were left open, or questions left unanswered.

Catholicism teaches that Christ died for the sins of all humanity, so in fact it's as if we were really there at the time. The readings of the accounts of the Passion are the only time in formal Catholic ritual where the laity actively participate in the reading of the Gospel. Yeah, we're left with those wonderful lines that call for his extermination. But leaving the built-in guilt trip aside, there's a curiosity about the last days of Jesus' life that to me is insatiable. How did it really happen? How could someone come riding into town in glory, only to have everyone turn on him in a matter of days? Especially when you consider the lack of mass communication, let alone that Jesus never did any wrong?

Some have said it was Judas' lust for power, thinking that Jesus was a misguided figure that wasn't quite going in the expected direction politically. Others saw Jesus' challenges to the Pharisees, Saducees, and Jewish clergy as threats to a barely stable order. It was so precarious that the Roman governor Pilate tried vainly to wash his hands of the situation. Matthew's account mentions twice of the fear that rabid disciples might (and eventually did) steal the body of Jesus and proclaim that he was raised from the dead.

For the last few days, as this week approached, I was beginning to ponder this, as I have wont to do. But this year a new ponderance hit me, something I don't remember anyone ever dwelling upon. I can only think of one other strangely biblical paradox that has set the world as we know it on it's collective ear.

The first, which I stumbled over years ago and still discuss on occasion, have to do with how Judeo-Christianity and Islam both trace their roots back to Abraham, the first of the Old Testament patriarchs. God had promised to make great nations of both Ishmael, his son by the slave Hagar; and of Isaac, his son by his wife Sarah. Both factions fervently believe that they alone are God's "Chosen People" and lay claim to the covenant God made with Abraham, and to the "Promised Land." The territory in that part of the world has been fought over more than most other land on earth, and it seems to all trace back to this.

The latest quandary comes from reading the accounts of the Passion. At the occasion of the observance of the Jewish Passover, clemency was granted to one Jewish prisoner. When Jesus was arrested and brought before Pilate, a choice was put to the crowd. Should Jesus, a seemingly innocent man, be released - or an insurrectionist named Barabbas?

Don't see the connection yet? I didn't think so, it takes a little explaining.

I think you probably know that surnames (family names) are a more recent convention in the history of humanity; it didn't necessarily exist in the Middle East in biblical times. I arrive at that conclusion by reading the various genealogy lists in the Bible: C is the son of B, who is the son of A. But that's the English version; in Hebrew (or Aramaic, or possibly both) it's C-bar-B, and B-bar-A. So Jesus, by use of the terms and what we know of him, would be formally known as Yeshua Bar-jonah, (the son of Joseph) or something similar.

But Jesus didn't refer to himself in that way. In the Gospels we read him calling himself "Son of Man" or (particularly in John) "Son of the Father." In fact, in the English translation of the prayer "Gloria in excelsis Deo", used by most mainstream Christian churches, Jesus is referred to as "only Son of the Father." And when Jesus prays, he also uses the term "Abba" to refer to his heavenly father. I was taught this is a term of intimate endearment.

So when we take the Hebrew name "Barabbas" and break it down, we have in English "son of Father(s)".

That's where the conundrum starts. Were the crowds awaiting the outcome of Jesus' trial confused? Did they call for the release of the wrong "Son of the Father" errantly? Were their calls played upon by the Jewish priest-class who were translating to the Roman government? Could all of this have been stopped, and some other way found for Jesus to redeem humanity?


Indeed. The 'son of Abbas' or the 'Son of Abba'??? How many thought they were shouting for the release of Jesus, only to discover otherwise? How many times have we tripped over our well-intended choice of words? And when do we see that, in so many ways, that we are our own worse enemy?

God, forgive us...even after all this time and given all this enlightenment...we still don't understand that what we do - the attitudes we take, and the words we use to express them - are all among the things for which Jesus died.

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