Have you noticed how quickly we designate certain people or entities as responsible for a perceived problem in our society? You must know people who hold Anthony Fauci responsible for any number of Covid-related evils. Or China, responsible for “the China virus.” And then there’s the Justice Department.
Not to limit the tendency to one side of our political spectrum, some are only too ready to see cows, with their methane burps, as major causal factors in global warming. Auto emissions, and their mother Oil, are easily identified as a key factor in the atmosphere’s carbon build-up, ignoring such other factors as excess processing of just about everything, and over-consumption, that require enormous amounts of energy to sustain.
We look very quickly to scapegoating to relieve ourselves of thorny, complex problems. Just load them all onto one identifiable cause and send them off.
The scapegoat has a long and somewhat mysterious history. It may have originated even before the Jews adopted it as part of the Day of Atonement, when two goats were selected to represent the people. Lots were drawn, and one goat was designated to be sacrificed to God, taking with it the sins of the people, while the other would carry those sins away, into the desert. The Hebrew word for this goat was L’azazel; Tyndale’s English translation of the Bible used the word scapegoat, and so the word became part of the English vocabulary to mean someone or something which becomes the focal point for evil, and, when removed, takes the evil with it.
Complex problems are difficult to deal with. The Covid virus, arising mysteriously in China, and then quickly spreading world-wide was a painful example still fresh in our minds. While epidemiologists had long expected just such a pandemic to arise, most people were taken by surprise. Hardly anyone living remembered the Influenza epidemic of 1917 or had any understanding of how it spread. Suddenly governments were coming up with emergency policies that no one had any experience with: masking, distancing, a lock-down. Here there were no sure-fire drug remedies, no vaccines. We had been spoiled by having conquered most of the contagious diseases of the past, feeling ourselves, somehow, immune, or at least able to fight off most anything. (At the beginning of the pandemic, most of the Vitamin C disappeared from pharmacy shelves.)
Almost immediately some began to look at the Lab in Wuhan as the source—man-made, possibly deliberately released. China looked like a culprit. Maybe our own National Institute of Health. Fauci. It was as if, once a scapegoat had been identified, we could just send the whole mess back into the desert and be rid of it. Nobody consciously thought this, but for many it was a way to deal emotionally with a problem that otherwise posed such an existential threat.
I use this as an example, and apologize if you were one who held these views. The point I want to make is, the complex problems that faced us required a solution that addressed their true causes and looked for ways to resolve them. Distancing, masking, the shut-down were all ways to deal with an epidemic where there was no certain cure. It was a short-term solution to give us time while we looked to find effective treatments.
In the time of Jesus it was just such a strategy that kept lepers in their colonies, unable to interact with the rest of the people. It was a contagious disease with no known cure. The only way to protect society was isolation.
Lepers were not scapegoats any more than those isolated by Covid were. However, during the pandemic, scapegoating led people to shift their attention from real causes and solutions to potential culprits. It was a distraction. On the other hand, leper colonies were a solution, a primitive one, to a yet-unresolved problem in the ancient world.
But lepers also became a kind of scapegoats in that they were identified with their disease, no longer treated as loved and respected members of society. They became a societal reservoir of contagion, saving the rest of the people by being apart.
Jesus came into that setting as healer, to show that even the unclean, the diseased, were loved by God. Rather than rely on scapegoating catecories, he stepped in to address the actual problem at hand.
The disciples asked, “Lord, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind.” They looked for a scapegoat.
“Neither this man or his parents sinned, but it was so that the works of God might be displayed and illustrated in him.” (John 9:1-5 Amplified Bible) Jesus refuses to find a culprit; rather, he sees how God will use this situation.
Jesus gives us the modus operandi here: discover how God is at work in this situation. How will God use this to his honor and glory.
On a human level, what can we learn from this situation? What factors are at work here? Sometimes there is a single identifiable cause. Often the contributing factors are not so clear and can’t be solved by a magic bullet. If we are wise, we will look beyond the easy answers, digging down to the sources.
Jesus did not seek out scapegoats, but he himself became the scapegoat for all of humankind: The lamb led to the slaughter, the ram who took the place of Isaac, the Lamb of God.
Jesus is the Lamb of God who took upon himself all of our sins, all of our ills.
We don’t need another scapegoat.