This reflection was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, April 13, 2014. It was offered as part of a Palm/Passion Sunday worship service. It is best to read the message in the context of Scripture. Links to the readings are below. You can find a copy of the dramatic reading used in worship, here.
Jesus’ Entrance into Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11
Jesus’ Betrayal and Trial: Matthew 26:14-27:17
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to speak and live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
I have a great deal of sympathy for Pilate, at least in Matthew’s gospel. Pilate was, according to the Jewish philosopher Philo, “inflexible, merciless, and obstinate.” And yet, in Matthew’s Gospel, we see a gracious side to this autocrat. After being “amazed” by Jesus during his questioning and receiving a message from his wife asking for mercy on this “righteous man,” Pilate, it seems, does not want to execute Jesus. But, the chief priests and elders were stirring up trouble in the crowd. Pilate didn’t want, nor did he need a riot.
It was customary for the Roman procurator to release a prisoner during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the Passover) so he posed a question to the crowd, “Whom would you like me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Christ?”
Which Jesus do you want?
Do you want Jesus Barabbas? a man who tried to “save” Israel through might and force? a man, a murderer who takes life? Or would you rather have Jesus, the Christ? who taught that one must love his enemies, “turn the other cheek,” walk the second mile, and give to all who ask of you. a man who came to heal the sick, the lame, the blind? a man who came to offer life to a world filled with death?
Do you want Jesus Barabbas? a man who has participated in an up-rising, an insurgency that failed creating chaos and disorder? Or would you rather have Jesus, the Christ? who calmed the raging sea with a simple command? who fed thousands with just a few fish and a couple loaves of bread? a man who welcomed and blessed the children? who taught that greatness was measured not by might, but in service to others?
Which Jesus do you want?
Do you want a Jesus that looks like you? votes like you? believes like you? Do you want a Jesus who grants your every wish? who promises wealth? a Jesus who promises power?
Or, do you want Jesus who is the Christ? The Jesus who taught that the fulfillment of all things hinged on our desire to grow in love with both God and neighbor; Jesus the Christ who taught that money was not to be horded, but offered in relief to the poor. Do you want Jesus the Savior of the world? Who comes not on a high horse, but on a lowly ass? Jesus the Messiah, who came not receive royal treatment, but who came to serve, “to give his life to liberate many people.” Do you want the Jesus who taught his disciples to put the needs of others before self? Are you sure that you really want the Jesus who said, “all who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” Are you sure that you really want the Jesus who offers life only through self-sacrifice?
Pilate asked the crowd, “Whom would you like me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Christ?” Which Jesus do you want?
It’s time we answer.
We are inundated with choices. Help us, O God, to understand that the most important choice is to choose your love that we might follow Jesus, the one called Christ. No other choice, O God, is more important than the choice to follow Him.
On this Palm and Passion Sunday, O God, we are reminded how difficult that choice is. And so, where and when we fail to make the right choice–when we choose hate over love and violence over peace and division over unity–extend to us your grace and then help us to extend the grace we receive to others. It’s through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of the One you sent, Jesus the Christ, our Savior, we pray. Amen.
Our Choice, Jesus’ Torture and Death: Matthew 27:17-50.
 See Matthew 27:19.
 Matthew 27:17, Common English Bible.
 See Matthew 27:16.
 Mark 15:7, Common English Bible. See also Luke 23:19 and John 18:40.
 See Matthew 5:43-48.
 See Matthew 5:38-39.
 See Matthew 5:41.
 Matthew 5:42.
 See Matthew 8:23.
 See Matthew 14:13-21.
 See Matthew 19:13-15.
 See Matthew 23:11-12.
 See Matthew 22:34-40.
 See Matthew 19:16-22.
 See Matthew 27:1-11
 See Matthew 20:26-28 (Common English Bible).
 Matthew 16:24, Common English Bible.
 See Matthew 16:25-28.
 Matthew 27:17, Common English Bible