Jesus, the ultimate scapegoat

Jesus, the ultimate scapegoat
Jesus the ultimate scapegoat


I went to my psychiatrist to be psychoanalyzed

To find out why I killed the cat and blacked my husband’s eyes.

He laid me on a downy couch to see what he could find,

And here is what he dredged up from my subconscious mind:

When I was one, my mommy hid my dolly in a trunk,

And so it follows, naturally, that I am always drunk.

When I was two, I saw my father kiss the maid one day,

And that is why I suffer now from kleptomania.

At three, I had the feeling of ambivalence towards my brothers,

And so it follows naturally I poisoned all my lovers.

But I am happy; now I’ve learned the lesson this has taught:

Everything I do that’s wrong is someone else’s fault.

This poem by Anna Russell is essentially about scapegoating – that propensity in all of us to pin blame onto someone else for anything and everything that is wrong about anything and everything. Both in anthropology and psychology, scapegoating is recognized as a prevalent psychosocial “mechanism,” where individual or collective emotions such as failure, anger, frustration, and guilt are displaced and projected onto a vulnerable scapegoat. According to the great anthropological philosopher, René Girard, “Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them.”

Scapegoating is the opposite of responsibility. In his work, Ethics, the modern-day Christian prophet and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, says that responsibility is a basic form of vicarious representation – i.e., an action done on behalf of another. “A father,” Bonhoeffer says, “acts on behalf of his children by working, providing, intervening, struggling, and suffering for them. In so doing, he really stands in their place. He is not an isolated individual, but incorporates the selves of several people in his own self. Every attempt to live as if he were alone is a denial of the fact that he is actually responsible. He cannot escape the responsibility, which is his because he is a father.”

When we take these two opposite and parallel notions of scapegoating and responsibility – of transferring responsibility upon someone else, on the one hand, and of taking action on behalf of someone else, on the other – and view them through the lens of the Cross, something remarkable emerges: scapegoating and responsibility converge at the Cross.

At the Cross, Jesus Christ is made the ultimate scapegoat, the one upon whom is (dis)placed and projected all that is wrong and evil about the world. Jesus the Crucified is named, blamed, and shamed for our sin. But the irony of it all is that, Christ, the helpless Scapegoat, is also simultaneously the vicarious representative of humanity who freely and deliberately takes responsibility and responsible action on behalf of humanity.

It is at the Cross that the scapegoat mechanism is exposed, judged, and condemned for what it is – a lie. Our covers are blown at the Cross. We can no longer live and act under the charade of scapegoating, deluding ourselves and one another with the pretence that we are OK, that it is “someone else’s fault.” The Cross is the end of scapegoating. As its end, it is its telos, the destiny of scapegoating. All the scapegoating of the world converge, culminate, and precipitate at the Cross. But as its end, it is not only the culmination, but also the termination of scapegoating; it is not only the precipitation (i.e., the concretization), but also the evaporation of scapegoating. Scapegoating is no longer possible after the Cross.

Scapegoating is also no longer necessary after the Cross. At the Cross, Jesus Christ, the Responsible One, has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He has incorporated in Himself the whole of our individual and collective selves and acted once and “for all.” As Bonhoeffer puts it, “All that human beings were supposed to live, do, and suffer was fulfilled in him. In this real vicarious representative action, in which his human existence consists, he is the responsible human being par excellence.”

The responsibility that Christ takes on our behalf, however, does not leave us where we are, irresponsive and irresponsible. The responsibility and the responsible actions which a father undertakes on behalf of his family is ultimately about evoking a responsiveness and strengthening the responsibility of those under his charge and care. In the same way, the responsibility and responsible action that Christ has undertaken for us commands a corresponding responsiveness on our part, which the Bible calls faith. This responsiveness towards God, in turn, transforms us into the image of Christ, the Responsible One. And it is as Christ is formed in us that we truly begin to live responsibly before God, for others, in God’s good world.

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