At each feast he freed for them one prisoner they requested. There was one named Barabbas held with the rebels who had committed murder in the rebellion. So the crowd came up and began to ask for his usual act.
But Pilate answered them saying "Do you want me to free you the king of the Jews?" - he knew the chief priests had handed him over out of envy.
But the chief priests incited the crowd to free them Barabbas instead.
- Mark's gospel
[the quoted material incorporated in what follows is from Resistance by Barry Lopez, Knopf, NY, 2004]
The chief priests knew "the response to tyranny of every sort, if it is to work, must always be this: dismantle it. Take it apart. Scatter its defenders and its proponents, like a flock of starlings fed to a hurricane."
And so they handed him over out of envy. They would not abide love's tyranny.
The crowd had seen him and the twelve "chip away like coolies at the omnipotent and righteous facade, but appear...to be ineffective dissenters." They knew the miracle worker had rejected the assertion, "promoted today by success-mongering bull terriers in business, in government, in religion, that humans are goal-seeking animals." They knew, as individuals, that he believed them to be "creatures in search of proportion in life, a pattern of grace" - that "it is balance and beauty...people want, not triumph."
But they were not individuals now. They were a crowd, numbers to be incited.
Pilate knew: "What can love offer that cannot be rejected? What gesture cannot be maligned as witless by those who strive for every form of isolation?" But still he played along as Christ would be "sought out, quizzed, and possibly punished or isolated from society" for "terrorizing the imagination of our fellow citizens."
He would free the one they requested.
The chief priests knew "the human imagination...was a problematic force, its use best left to experts. An imagination in the wrong hands, missing the guidance of democratic reasoning and fed the wrong advice, an imagination with no measure of economic awareness, was a loose cannon."
And the tyrant of love was doing just that: imagining out loud what it was like to be truly human. That kind of thinking was best left to them, the experts.
Pilate knew that "in a democracy, the acknowledgement of one's errors, coupled with a suitable penance, could leave an individual with a very bright future."
But this was not a democracy. This was a crowd. There would be no penance. The future's brightness would be blood-red.
Things haven't changed in thousands of years. There are still chief priests. There is still a Pilate. And the crowd will never die. To these I say this:
I "understand you mean us no good, that you are cunning, and that you have the support of many in our country who regard works of the imagination...as disruptions in the warm stream of what pleases them - product availability, job advancement, pretty scenery, buying a ticket that wins."
I also say that I am not alone. There are others who've been tyrannized by love's love. Hear us:
"We regard ourselves as servants of memory. We will not be the servants of your progress. We seek a politics that goes beyond nation and race. We advocate for air and water without contamination, even if the contamination be called harmless or is to be placed there for our own good. We believe in the imagination and in the variety of its architectures...We believe in the divinity of life, in all its human variety. We believe that everything can be remembered in time, that anyone may be redeemed, that no hierarchy is worth figuring out, that no flower or animal or body of water or star is common, that poetry is the key to a lock worth springing, that what is called for is not subjugation but genuflection...We cannot...be imprisoned or killed, because we remember and speak...We are not twelve or twenty but numerous as the motes of dust lining the early morning shafts of city light. We are unquenchable and stark in the same moment that we are ordinary. We incorporate damage and compassion, exaltation and weariness-to-the-bone."
Such were his imaginings. Such are his imaginings. Keep Barabbas. We follow the tyrant of love.