Sunday, March 27, 2016

Quickies: Scapegoats

     Among the dismissals of the Christian story I’ve heard most often is that the tale of Jesus’s Crucifixion is merely a slight variation on the old theme of the “scapegoat:” the animal sacrificed in expiation for humans’ sins. And indeed, many pre-Christian religions did practice that sort of sacrifice, along with preparatory rituals in which the sacrificial animal was supposedly given the sins of the participants to bear. The theory of such practices was that only bloodshed can remit sin, so the blood of an animal substituted for the shedding of human blood.

     Then along comes Jesus of Nazareth to tell us that, much as Hosea said, His Father wants “mercy and not sacrifice.” So, in keeping with the incentives embedded in theocracy and the customs of the day, the Sanhedrin denounced Him for blasphemy and contrived, with Roman cooperation, to have Him put to death. And He did not resist, nor did He permit His disciples to resist for him:

     And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.
     Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
     In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.

     [Matthew 26:51-56]

     Strictly speaking, since God knows no necessity, Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion were not necessary for the remission of men’s sins (though they were certainly sufficient). But they demonstrated beyond any doubt that He had meant what He said about a New Covenant between God and Man. Coupled to His Resurrection, they eliminated any doubt that He had the authority to proclaim it.

     Should we doubt the Redeemer simply because He and His Father chose to emulate the scapegoat practice, that They might harness its symbolism to Their service? I think not, any more than we should doubt the existence of a realm of eternal bliss simply because it’s so often spoken of as “above,” when we know that above us are space, the other planets, and the stars.

     Symbolism is a powerful tool for opening and guiding men’s minds. It’s no less appropriate in God’s hands than in the hands of any human storyteller.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't have the Bible memorized chapter and verse however I am sure that on at least one occasion God or Jesus has said they would take what was foreign to them and make it their own.