“The world is going to pot and it’s all their fault. Oh you know who I’m talking about. You’ve seen what they’ve done to the economy. You know how they are promoting the wrong values. Unless and until we do something about them, our future is doomed and it’s only a matter of time before the things we value in the present start to unravel as well….”
Sound familiar? This seems to be a common refrain to me these days, people blaming someone or a whole category of someones for all their problems. Depending upon who is doing the blaming. the people “at fault” vary of course. They could be liberals or conservatives, the overly-indulged rich or the under- educated poor. They could be people of a certain religion or ethnicity, of a particular generation, sexual orientation, look or ideology. But whoever they are, “they” are the problem and the person blaming is the innocent victim. Is anyone else tired of all the rampant scapegoating that is going on?
For Christians, it’s worth keeping in mind that Jesus refused to scapegoat and had little patience with those who cast themselves as the victim by doing so. When he was on his way to Jerusalem, the Gospel of John tells us that he ran into a man who had been sitting by the sheep gate pool in Bethzatha for thirty-eight years. (John 5). The pool was supposed to have miraculous healing properties, but the man after all that time still was not healed. When Jesus asked him the obvious question, “Do you want to be whole?” all the man could offer up was excuses for why his lingering brokenness was somebody else’s fault. “I have no one to put me in the pool. Someone always cuts in line and takes me turn.” In other words, “They are all the reason for my enduring problem.” But Jesus would have none of that. Instead of offering pastoral sympathy to the man for all the years of suffering he had experienced, Jesus just looked at him and said, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
When the time came later on for Jesus to name a “them” himself while he was suffering on the cross, he would have been justified in naming all kinds of “thems.” He could have blamed the local Jewish authorities for setting him up. He could have blamed the Roman authorities for condemning him. He could have blamed his disciples for betraying and abandoning him. He could have blamed the crowds for their blood lust and gullibility. But he refused to blame any of them. Instead, he singled out an unnamed “them” for forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. You know which them I’m talking about God.” And God did. God forgave them all so that when Jesus was raised three days later, the good news he proclaimed was for everybody.
History has shown us again and again that human beings can do unspeakably horrible things to their neighbors when they see them as scapegoats for all their problems. It is a practice steeped in sin which leads to evil acts and deeper brokenness for our world. Each time this happens someone says, “Never again.” But it does happen again because it’s easier for us to blame others than it is for us to accept responsibility for our own happiness and wholeness. It’s also easier for us to point fingers at those who are different from us, who inspire in us fear or frustration, than it is for us to extend a hand and strive to get to know them, so that together we can work for the healing of the whole community.
Our culture has enabled people to take the easy route for way more than thirty-eight years by refusing to call scapegoating what it is. It’s time that we stop doing this. In the Greek, the verb for “walk” as in “pick up your mat and walk” is peripateo. This same verb can be translated “go, walk, and live” depending up the tense and the context. Every time I hear someone play the victim, blaming the unfairness of the world or some of its people for his or her problems, this word keeps popping into my head. “Stop the scapegoating. Go! Walk! Live!” If only Jesus were here to look us in the eye, shake his head and say this to us! But in his physical absence, I guess that means the job falls to us.