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Friday 18 April 2014


Being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient – even to the point of death – death on a cross.  (Phil 2: 6 – 11) 

The days of the sacred Triduum present us anew with the self-sacrifice of Jesus.  Through Jesus’ self-giving love we are given the fullness of life in Christ.  We find life in our communion with him through his death and resurrection for us, a life conveyed through the sacraments of his Church which bring us in contact with the events of Christ's passion.

Jerusalem is the location for the profound events of Jesus' passion. It is here that the first temple stood as a sign of the covenant between God and the people of Israel – a temple destroyed but rebuilt in the temple of Christ, who has become the priest, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice.

Yes, Jesus is the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice, the sacrifice which has brought to consciousness and so brought to an end the justification for ritualizing human death. Christ has exposed and so disempowered the deep human desire to project on a scapegoat our own sins, our fear and our anger.

The temple is re-built in the sense that Jesus as the priest, the altar and the victim allows us to share in that one perfect offering, which the sinless Son of God has made by himself and in so doing has undertaken all the anguish and horror of humanity’s inhumanity to all the victims of all time.

Rene Girard, the great French thinker, believes, as I mentioned on Palm Sunday, that early in human development, we learned to control internal conflict by projecting our jealousy and violence outside ourselves and outside our community by placing all the guilt on a scapegoat which is sent into the wilderness or killed.  This formulaic action was so effective that societies have in one way or another continued to use scapegoating to control violence ever since.

IMAGE:  The of the scapegoat by the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Wm Holman Hunt,  (displayed at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) several years ago).  Painted in the landscape of the Dead Sea.

He was oppressed and he was afflicted yet he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 52)

Girard has shown evidence that this formulaic action of ostracism and human sacrifice was so universal that societies have, in one way or another, continued to use scapegoating to control violence.

Today, Vladimir Putin places the blame for economic failure in Ukraine on the West and their use of power. Within Ukraine, groups blame other groups. Russians in Eastern Ukraine ally themselves with outside forces against those they consider the usurpers in Kiev and so they justify violence against the government. 

Some report that one of the reasons for the present conflict is that the Russian leadership is using the Western-backed government in Kiev as a scapegoat and as a diversion of the Russian peoples’ attention from the profound social and economic problems in Russia.

Without entering into a political argument we can see that the successful use of a scapegoat depends upon an individual’s or community’s belief that they have found the cause of their troubles in an outside “enemy”.  The cure is to isolate or dispose of the enemy. Once the enemy is destroyed or expelled, says Girard, a community does experience a temporary sense of relief and calm is restored for a time.

Such was the case immediately after the death of Jesus. Jerusalem and its Temple continued to function until about  40 years later; in AD 70 the temple was destroyed by the Romans.

A lesson for us about the costly sacrifice of Jesus is that he brings the futility of our refusal to accept our own sin to consciousness. In light of Jesus and his self-giving love we cannot individually or collectively appease our failure or sin by blaming another. We must confess our own sin and come to love our neighbor.

Girard shows us that the calm following an act of scapegoating is only temporary since the scapegoat is not really the cause nor is violence the cure of the conflict i.e. the sins of our humanity, that led to the expulsion and in many cases violence and death for the scapegoat.

When imitation and jealousy lead once again to internal conflict, which escalates into violence, humans will find another scapegoat and repeat the process all over again. Jesus has exposed and denied the power of this cycle. The Suffering Servant has paid the wages of sin and set us free.

In the light of this understanding it may be seen that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, was offering the people a scapegoat both for himself and for the Jewish people in the choice of one their own. Either Jesus or Barabbas would be the victim of human sacrifice in the form of crucifixion.

In his reading of the Bible, Girard realized that the Judeo-Christian tradition reveals the innocence of the scapegoat, “the Suffering Servant”, and so renders the justification for ancient sacrificial religion ineffective.

Jesus is the innocent victim of humanity – the one perfect complete and final sacrificial victim who has revealed the truth: the truth, which will set us free – the truth that God will forgive us when we accept our own sinfulness and renounce the scapegoating of others.

Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and obtain grace. (Hebrews 4)

History is witness to humanity’s, often unsuccessful, attempts to find sacrificial ways, apart from the one complete self-sacrifice of Jesus, to control our sin, rivalry and conflict. Christian apocalyptic literature predicts the failure of any sacrificial appeasement beyond the Cross and its power conveyed in the Mass which is a participation and re-presentation of the perfect sacrifice of Christ.

The psalmist and prophets tell us that the Messiah will come to Jerusalem to begin his work of restoring God’s people. Jesus did so by putting an end to the sacrificial system, completing it with his own final and complete self-offering for the sins of world.

Being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient – even to the point of death – death on a cross.  (Phil 2: 6 – 11) 

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