Jesus as Scapegoat
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
In terms of the soul, no one else is your problem. You are invariably your primary problem. You are always the locus of conversion and transformation. I believe the message of the crucified Jesus is a statement about what to do with your pain. It’s primarily a message of transformation, and not a transaction to “open the gates of heaven,” unless you are talking about being drawn into heaven right now. For some unfortunate reason, Christians have usually “used” Jesus as a mere problem solver, one who would protect us personally from pain later. That kept us in a very small, self-centered world. The big loss was that we missed Jesus’ message of how to let God transform us and our world here and now.
The book of Revelation presents the paradoxical image of a Lamb who is simultaneously slaughtered and standing, victim and victorious at the same time (see Revelation 5:6 and throughout). This is the transformative mystery in iconic form. We must put together these two seeming opposites in our own life.
Was God trying to solve a problem through what looked like the necessary death of Jesus? Or was God trying to reveal something central about the nature of God? Christians have historically taught that God was saving us from our sins. Maybe an even better way to say it is that Jesus was saving us through our sins. As Paul says with great subtlety, Jesus “became sin that we might become the very goodness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, Jesus becomes the problem to show us how to resolve the problem.
We are generally inclined to either create victims of others or play the victim ourselves, both of which are no solution but only perpetuate the problem. Jesus instead holds the pain—even becomes the pain—until it transforms him into a higher state, which we rightly call the risen life.
The crucified and resurrected Jesus shows us how to do this without denying, blaming, or projecting pain elsewhere. In fact, there is no “elsewhere.” Jesus is the victim in an entirely new way because he receives our hatred and does not return it, nor does he play the victim for his own empowerment. We find no self-pity or resentment in Jesus. He never asks his followers to avenge his murder. He suffers and does not make others suffer because of it. He does not use his suffering and death as power over others to punish them, but as power for others to transform them.
Jesus is the forgiving victim, which really is the only hope of our world, because most of us sooner or later will be victimized on some level. It is the familiar story line of an unjust and often cruel humanity. The cross is a healing message about the violence of humanity, and we tragically turned it into the violence of God, who we thought needed “a sacrifice” to love us.
An utterly new attitude (Spirit) has been released in history; it’s a spirit of love, compassion, and forgiveness. As Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Gateway to Silence:
Father, forgive them.
Adapted from Richard Rohr “Jesus: Forgiving Victim, Transforming Savior,” Richard Rohr on Transformation, Collected Talks, Vol. 1, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 1997); and
Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2001), 22-23.