This past week the French sociologist and philosopher Rene Girard died. Girard was known for – among other things – his writing about scapegoating; that is, how groups of people torment and sacrifice other groups as a means of establishing unity.
Recent events seem to validate Girard’s theory. Consider ISIS and the destruction of all groups not Muslim. Or the terrible war in South Sudan between the Dinka and the Nuer ethnic groups. Or the continuing strife in India between Muslims and Hindus. Or in Israel between Jews and Palestinians. In each place one group blames the “other” and seeks to “sacrifice” them as a means of establishing unity.
We need but look at the world around us – or at our own lives! – to see that scapegoating never makes for peace. Scapegoating does nothing but escalate violence as each continues to try to sacrifice the other to establish unity.
In his middle age, Girard returned to the Roman Catholic faith of his childhood because the Christian faith was the only religion that examined scapegoating from the victim’s point of view. Jesus was the ultimate scapegoat, Girard said – a true scapegoat according to the Levitical model – because Jesus never passed on the violence that was done to him. Jesus took the violence done to him and – like the scapegoat in Leviticus taking the people’s sins into the wilderness – took it away. Completely away! Like a lighting rod takes the charge and runs it to the ground, Jesus took all the evil laid on him and – instead of passing the charge on to others – ended it.
As I consider the events in Paris on Friday evening – or the simmering conflict in South Sudan, or in Ukraine, or in Syria, or in the Holy Land, or any number of other places around the globe; or as I consider my own life and how I am prone to scapegoat – I see how desperately this world needs Christians. Not Christians instead of people of other faiths; not “Christians” because we are better at being kind and loving. But Christians because we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection – we share in Jesus’ being made a scapegoat – because Jesus is the only hope for grounding, for ending, the cycle of violence in our world.
If we Christians can somehow take the violence of our world and pass it onto Jesus, perhaps then we might have a chance of becoming a “minister of reconciliation.” If we can truly unite ourselves to Jesus in his Passion – “becoming like him in his death, if somehow we might attain resurrection from the dead” – then maybe the cycles of violence around us – within us! – have the chance of being grounded and released.
To share in Jesus’ Passion is not easy; indeed, we cannot do it. All we can do is to open ourselves to how much Jesus loves us. All we can do is to let Jesus more fully into our lives. All we can do is to accept Jesus’ forgiveness and know that he takes the “charge” of sin away from us, away from the world, so that we need not pass it on to others. And it’s not easy to open ourselves to Jesus; it takes prayer and grace. Which is what the Eucharist is.
The Eucharist that we are about to receive is a symbol of our dying and rising with Christ. It is a sign to us that we are “grounded” in Christ and need not pass sin along. It is a reminder that, no matter how much “charge” is poured into this world, He can bear it away. And it is a concrete sign of our allowing Jesus into our lives. As we open our hands to receive the Eucharist this morning, I hope that we also open our hearts to let His love in, His care for us, His forgiveness. So that – as we are “grounded” with Him; in the ground! sharing in His death – so we might share in His resurrection. Then maybe we can truly be “ministers of reconciliation.”