Judas, Barabbas, Gestas
Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Preached on March 19-20, 2016 at Jesus Our Savior Catholic Church, Morehead KY
Readings: Luke 19:28-40; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56
My grandmother Elpidia was so devout a Catholic that even her expressions were inspired by her Faith. In the face of tragedy, she would make a quick sign of the cross and cry out “Susmaryosep!” to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In the face of unchristian conduct, she would chastise a crook with her coldest insult—“Hudas, Barabas, Hestas”—counting the culprit with that unholy company of Judas the traitor, Barabbas the murderer, and Gestas the robber who was crucified with the Lord. Perhaps, she hoped that those names of the most notorious scoundrels in the Passion of the Lord would be enough to shame any Christian back to the faithfulness of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Yet, even those villains did not start out as evil. Judas Iscariot was an apostle whom Jesus so trusted that He put him in charge of the purse strings of their group (cf. Jn. 12:6; 13:29). He got so close to the Lord that he felt comfortable to greet Him with a kiss (cf. Lk. 22:47). Barabbas was a zealous defender of Jewish freedom from Roman oppression (cf. Lk. 23:19). Gestas was probably a poor man looking for a way to feed himself and his family. Unfortunately, each one of them gave in to frustration and desperation and gave up on God. They chose something other than God to be more important than God: Judas chose silver over the Savior, Barabbas his cause over the cross, Gestas stealing over sharing. They insisted on getting their way, no matter the cost, that they got lost along the way.
None of us started out as evil. In fact, each of us eagerly hailed the Lord with hosannas at the beginning. But, somewhere along the way, we too got so addicted to being served that we forgot the Lord’s call to serve (cf. Lk. 22:25-27). We, along with the rest of the apostles, have often deluded ourselves into thinking that it is all about being the greatest (cf. Lk. 22:24), that winning is everything. Our priorities have gotten so skewed that the Lord even earnestly prayed for us, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34).
People know not what they do because they have forgotten who they are: Judas forgot that he was a friend of the Lord, Barabbas that he was a hero to many, Gestas that he was somebody else’s neighbor. They forgot who they were and resorted to being something less than what they were called to be. So it was for this crowd who once welcomed the Christ (cf. Lk. 19:36-38), yet had easily condemned Him later to a cruel crucifixion (cf. Lk. 23:20-23). We went along with the crowd, instead of following the road less traveled of the One who “humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (cf. Phil. 2:8).
Hopefully, the song that we will sing as we leave this Church today will be the prayer that will guide us as we enter into the week we call holy: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Lk. 23:42). This was also the plea of Dismas, the good thief, on Calvary (cf. Lk. 23:42). It is not only a petition that we raise to the Crucified Lord; it is also our reminder to choose Him over everything else and to seek first His kingdom (cf. Mt. 6:33), not only this week but for the rest of our lives. Only then will no one, much less my sainted grandmother, count any of us in the company of Judas, Barabbas, and Gestas. Rather, we would be numbered with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph who said to the Father: “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42; cf. Mt. 6:10; Lk. 1:38).