Two Jesuses, a Good Friday reflection

Originally published in the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship's Holy Week email series.

From Matthew 27...
“At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. … 
The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” 
And they said, “Barabbas.” 
Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”

Did you know there were two Jesuses facing crucifixion on what has come to be known as Holy or “Good” Friday? Barabbas, a fellow rebel against the Roman powers, appears in all four gospel stories, but only in Matthew 27 do we get the proper name of this man, whom Pilate releases.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament explains that Barabbas means “son of a father.” Christ, or Messiah, is a title meaning “the anointed one” and is used to refer to kings in the Ancient Near East, whose power was consecrated by anointing with oil.

Of course, Jesus Christ wasn’t a king, but the writing above his cross tells us all we need to know. “Jesus, the King of the Jews” is crucified. Jesus, son of a father, so defined by a relationship, is released back to the people.

The gospel of Matthew is dated around 30-40 years after the time of the crucifixion, at a time when the Christ movements were building. The author knew, to a certain degree, how things would turn out. We, then, can imagine this scene as a moment of foreshadowing, wherein Jesus Barabbas and Jesus Christ represent not two distinct humans, but two facets of humanity, two ways of being human, two ways of fighting for justice: with hierarchical power, or relational power.

The death of Christ was a transition moment for his people--a devastating, painful moment. Until the crucifixion, they still imagined the hierarchical power of a king could save them. Only when that power was given over for crucifixion was an opening created for relationship to be realized as the true path to justice. Building relationship within and between sects took decades, took centuries, is still not finished.

And on Good Friday, we don’t know that the work will succeed. Christ is written in the gospels as having full knowledge of the divine plan, but we do not. Still, we must forge ahead. We must hand hierarchical power to the executioner and demand that relationship be set free.


Spirit of Ever-Becoming Life, turn us back toward one another that we may travel toward the cross together. May we who imagine power to be our birthright find the strength to sacrifice our privilege in service of relationship. May those relationships sustain us as a people through the dark nights that follow and provide a new foundation for our collective future. May our children’s children’s children reap the rewards and live the life that was always meant for us. Amen.