Jesus Without Politics

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 4 2012 @ 10:42am

I'm not the only advocate of an apolitical Jesus:

At the culmination of Jesus's trial, Pilate presents the people with a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. One of the two will be released. But who was Barabbas? It is Jesus-paintingusually the words of John's Gospel that come to mind here: "Barabbas was a robber" (Jn 18:40). But the Greek word for "robber" had acquired a specific meaning in the political situation that obtained at the time in Palestine. It had become a synonym for "resistance fighter". Barabbas had taken part in an uprising (cf. Mk 15:7), and furthermore – in that context – had been accused of murder (cf. Lk 23:19, 25). When Matthew remarks that Barabbas was "a notorious prisoner" (Mt 27:16), this is evidence that he was one of the prominent resistance fighters, in fact probably the actual leader of that particular uprising.

In other words, Barabbas was a messianic figure.

The choice of Jesus versus Barabbas is not accidental; two messiah figures, two forms of messianic belief stand in opposition. This becomes even clearer when we consider that the name Bar-Abbas means "son of the father". This is a typically messianic appellation, the cultic name of a prominent leader of the messianic movement… So the choice is between a messiah who leads an armed struggle, promises freedom and a kingdom of one's own, and this mysterious Jesus who proclaims that losing oneself is the way to life. Is it any wonder that the crowds prefer Barabbas?

Yep, that's the Pope, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth. Benedict is adamant that Jesus is not about worldly power at all:

The Lord… declares that the concept of the Messiah has to be understood in terms of the entirety of the message of the Prophets – it means not worldly power, but the Cross, and the radically different community that comes into being through the Cross. But that is not what Peter has understood: "Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, 'God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you'" (Mt 16:22). Only when we read these words against the backdrop of the temptation scene – as its recurrence at the decisive moment [Peter's confession of Jesus as Son of God] – do we understand Jesus's unbelievably harsh answer: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men" (Mt 16:23).

(Painting: Titian's Ecce Homo, depicting Christ after the trial, and mockery of his "kingdom" by giving him a purple robe and a crown of thorns.)