A scapegoat is someone who is punished for the sins or offenses of others. It dates back to Leviticus 16, when the “Azazel” goat was sent out into the wilderness from the Temple in Jerusalem on the Day of Atonement. Often the goat had the curses of the community written on his flank. The purpose of the scapegoat was a solemn sacrifice for sin.
While originally a carefully designed religious practice, identifying a scapegoat eventually carried over into the non- religious world. It was quickly discovered that heaping abuse on a scapegoat reduced tension in the community – for a short bit of time. It never resolved the tension; in fact the tension often came back with more force than before.
We now live in a world with many scapegoats.
Scapegoating has become an accepted method of political survival. Not a day goes by in the public arena without a Democrat scapegoating a Republican, or a Republican scapegoating a Democrat. Racial injustice, which is so deeply woven into the fabric of our nation’s history, has created an awareness among a growing number of people that young black men are being made scapegoats in order to keep the rest of the country safe. And now a backlash is forming that wants to create scapegoats out of the police. Creating a scapegoat never resolves anything; it only succeeds in the desire to identify new scapegoats.
We all have a tendency to want to name a scapegoat – even if it is only in the silence of our hearts. It is easier to name a scapegoat if we don’t really know the person or group we have singled out for abuse, be it verbal or violent. If all we have is a report from someone else about someone else – or we have some psychological projection of a particular group – and we do not have a relationship, it is not a lot of work to make that person a group a scapegoat of our own dissatisfaction about something.
Creating relationships counters this ingrained human tendency to generate scapegoats. Jesus knew that. That is why he sent people out in his name – to build relationships, to discover the giftedness in one another and in so doing to set people free from the scourge of creating scapegoats; and to live more fully into the blessing of the living Christ.