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Theology from the cross pt.4

By Mike Waine

He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat. Leviticus 16:8-10

There is a Jewish custom of symbolically placing the sins of the people upon a goat, called the ‘scapegoat’, which was cast out of the community – believed to be taking the sin with it.

The scapegoat ritual became part of the ceremonies on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.

The sacrificial offerings on the Day of Atonement serve as a foreshadowing of the final

sacrifice of Jesus, who is oft described as the sacrificial lamb.

René Girard, a literary critic and philosopher, wrote extensively around the scapegoat figure and its place in society.

His view is that humans are driven by a desire for what others have, which causes a conflict between the two parties. If this is allowed to go unchecked, across a society as a whole, then the previously internalised violence will explode out. In order to regain a semblance of peace, Girard says, a scapegoat is nominated to be expelled or killed. Social order is returned and people are content that the issue has been dealt with.

Girard applies his interpretation of the scapegoat mechanism to the life and death of Jesus, with the placing of our sins on Jesus and his crucifixion acting as means of removing it from us. Girard does not, however, stop there. He poses that Jesus is unlike any other scapegoat in that he returns; he is resurrected. The resurrection of Jesus serves to show that he is, in actuality, innocent. Humanity, then, is made aware of its own guilt and its part in the scapegoating of Jesus, which breaks the cycle.

In many ways, this perspective holds many familiar traits. The sacrificial nature of Christ and the innocence of Jesus. What it adds, however, is a structural significance in the course of history. Jesus here is seen to confront humanity with its own violence and pattern of passing the blame.

Jesus’ resurrection reveals to us a new way of doing things. We must take responsibility for ourselves, forgive others, love our enemies. We are offered atonement as well as a new way to atone.

So, as we reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus this Easter, why not consider what Jesus’ role was and what difference it has made for you.

Happy Easter!

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