No More Scapegoats
“[Aaron] is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat” (Leviticus 19:7-10).
The term scapegoat is often misunderstood as a synonym for sacrificial lamb. In Leviticus we learn that two goats were chosen on the Day of Atonement. The Priest Aaron cast lots, which was a game of chance like tossing dice or flipping a coin. One goat was sacrificed. The other goat, the scapegoat was set free into the wilderness. The scapegoat was cast out of the community in order to carry the sins of others. Public banishment sounds preferable to death, but consider how predators would drool over a domesticated goat without flock or shepherd.
Christians believe that Jesus is our Passover Lamb who died as an atoning sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. Jesus is the Lamb of God who died and rose again. So who then is the scapegoat? The scapegoat is anyone assigned the blame for our remaining sin and misfortune. Nazis scapegoated the Jews. High caste Indians scapegoated the untouchable Dalit caste. Jim Crow-era Whites scapegoated their Black neighbors.
Scapegoating is not just a historical reality. Any time we try to make ourselves feel better by removing a person from our social circle, we are engaging in scapegoating. Consider all the scapegoating over the past few years based on politics, vaccination status, race, and theology. Blaming others for our grief and shame is ultimately a failure to grasp the full power of Jesus dying on the cross. Jesus did not just take away our own personal sin. Jesus took down the scapegoating system where we get to heap the blame on other people.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” We must have the faith to accept God’s forgiveness. We must also have the faith to offer that forgiveness to others. Receiving grace necessitates giving grace. Followers of Jesus do not need a scapegoat to feel better. Let us welcome all lost sheep and stray goats into the fold of Jesus.