Scapegoats, red ropes…and peace.



I’m in the midst of several pieces of art, one is a multimedia sculpture/painting that utilizes newsprint clippings and wire with paint to make a point…it is entitled “scapegoat”…also writing a song about the same thing.

Rene Girard has a fascinating book by the same title where he traces the cultural phenomenon of sacrificing a victim to stop conflict and restore peace in the community, it traces the idea into culture and points out that the Judeo/Christina myth of this is the first place that God demonstrates the victim is innocent.

In Leviticus 16 Aaron is instructed on offering a sacrifice and he is to take two goats, one for the Lord and one for the “Azazel” or scapegoat , the Lords sacrifice is slaughtered and the blood offered up, the goat for the people is called the “scapegoat” and it has all the sins of the people pronounced upon it’s head and then it is led away into the wilderness to die on its own.

Tradition tells us that “Azazel” is a demon, the Jewish Rabbis saw Azazel as a expression of the satan, and the name implies a high cliff, some speculate that the goat was taken to the wilderness and thrown from a cliff…we can see a reflection of this meme in the life of Christ at *Nazareth where he passes through the crowd before when they attempt to take him to a high cliff and cast him over…tradition also suggest that the scapegoat is tied with a scarlet woolen thread around its neck to identify it should any traveler encounter it.

Girard will postulate that the the death of Jesus and his resurrection dis-empowers the basic structure of this ritual by exposing the innocence of the victim, that God has demonstrated he is on the side of the victim by raising Jesus from the dead and now this construct is no longer valid…I like that idea, but have yet to see it manifest…see we are still using scapegoats all the time, the church is really bad about it to be honest.

When power and peace is threatened in a congregation the typical response is to find the threatening agent and expose them, to label them (put a red scarlet thread on them) and then begin the process of alienating and exiling them…this is the exact scapegoat mechanism at work in all of humanity, from Palestine to Politics we all want a bad guy to blame and are looking to get rid of them so things can get back to “normal”. Girard calls this “satan casting out satan” and says it is only temporary at best, I agree.

When I look back at my personal history I see this exact mechanism at work at least three distinct times in my life, places where if I had not been rooted deeply in my love of God I would have despaired of life itself due to the intense isolation and rejection that I felt.

Think about it…we are created to be “known”…intimacy is probably one of our highest drives in life at some level, we all want someone to “into-me-you-see”…and when we employ this tactic of isolating and exiling, cutting off relationship, we have essentially sent someone to hell…to the wilderness of the demonic to be devoured because they threatened us…we put a label on them that is borderline demonic itself calling them poison/rebellious/heretic/dangerous and these labels function very much like a scarlet thread to tell others, “do not associate with this person”, but even the man shacking up with his dads wife, Paul admonishes the church to take him back…it seems even in the New Testament there is no place of final exclusion, Paul saw the danger of “shunning” and cutting off and saw it as an opportunity for someone to be destroyed.

I have been called up in front of entire congregations and told by leaders that “God would destroy me” if I did not submit…and at this point in my life I can truly laugh at such nonsense, I can squarely look at any leader offering such nonsense and say “I don’t allow you to have that authority over me, I am a child of the King”…but at the time it did nearly destroy me and the problem is walking the thin line between being true to yourself and finding acceptance in the community of faith…ultimately you must be true to yourself, anything else will kill you in the demonic desert that will surely come if you ever ask honest questions.

This post is mostly just some meanderings in our current church culture, your mileage may vary, but if your authority is threatened by those “beneath” you, I will suggest you really have no authority at all, Jesus will say “No man takes my life from me”…which implied that he had risen past the scapegoat mechanism I think it’s time we begin the process of dismantling some of these models, at some point the church should be different from the world and this should be the primary place it happens how do we treat those we disagree with, do we exile them to the high cliffs or do we allow questions and become transparent, letting our fears be exposed and healed?

“But Mark, if we allow questions or confusion anarchy will take over”…really? Is our kingdom so fragile we cannot allow honest questions? And on the issue of power and authority, I really think you have to warp scripture to establish that one person has authority over another in the church, yes that flies in the face of almost ALL of our models, but frankly it’s time we took the words of Jesus serious when he said “It is not to be this way among you…” his reference is DIRECTLY pointing to lording over one another…”arche” from where we get hierarchy…in other words Jesus flatly refuses the model of having one believer lording or ruling over another…do we believe him or not?

When Paul submitted to James in Jerusalem it almost got him killed…it’s time we recognize that those who appear to be “somewhat” are fallible, gullible and prone to protecting history rather than moving forward into the new man.

So what happens when the scapegoat wanders back into camp? Not sure it’s ever happened before…oh wait, yes THAT might be one of the major themes of the resurrection…the victim comes home fully alive…now what are you going to do?

By the way…just a thought…the word “scapegoat” is really not in the Hebrew, seems Tyndale got it wrong the idea of a “goote of departing” is not in the original…the word Azazel is a proper name in the Hebrew, the Rabbi’s believed it was a demon prince…so think about it…when you “scapegoat” someone it is possible you are really sending them into the realm of a demonic prince…something to think about the next time you hear a label of sin tied onto someone you know.




* Many scholars speculate that the Nazareth cliff scene in scripture is an addendum by the writers since Nazareth as we have discovered it has no cliffs, I am not one who subscribes to this variety, since there have been numerous archeological discoveries that could support the site of nazareth being in a different place…the jury is still out on this and I think I prefer to accept the story as written rather than extrapolate a modern re-rendering of the story due to somewhat faulty data…Nazareth as a village with a synagogue could be in several locations now and the standard historical location should be reviewed in my opinion.