An intruder gets into the White House…whose fault is it?
Nurses caring for a patient contract the Ebola virus…whose fault is it?
A sports team gets eliminated from the playoffs…whose fault is it?
A couple files for divorce…whose fault is it?
The coach may be replaced; the director may resign; the CEO may be fired. These actions may make us feel better. Assigning blame eases anxiety and helps us feel like something is being done.
Yet, in our heart of hearts, we know that one person is rarely at fault. In our humanity we want to think that there is an easy solution to the difficulty – but often it means that because of our desire for a quick resolution another human being takes a fall.
The one who takes the fall is known as the scapegoat.
A scapegoat is an ancient concept. In Leviticus 16:21, the priest places his hands on the head of a goat, thereby transferring the sins of the people onto it, and then the goat is driven out into the wilderness. The goat is the literal ‘scapegoat.’
The concept may be biblical, but biblical stories demonstrate that over and over again God reverses it. In stories such as Cain and Abel, Job, and in the psalms, the victim is innocent and the crowd is guilty. God’s reversal becomes particularly clear for Christians as we see Godself choosing to be the ultimate scapegoat in Christ.
What does God do in Christ? God substitutes himself for the victim. We don’t have to sacrifice each other to survive. We don’t have to transfer our anxieties on someone else to ease our own. Jesus is the scapecoat, the innocent victim who does not assign blame but rather chooses to forgive.
We don’t need more scapegoats. There’s already been one – Godself.
If you’d like to read more from philosopher René Girard and theologian James Alison about Jesus as the ultimate scapegoat, start with this article: