“Bringing Back the Scapegoat”

Intimate, loving relationships are complicated. Erich Fromm highlighted the struggle in our marriages: There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.  Why is that? My experience tells me that it is a toxic concoction, which includes at least these two ingredients: Unrealistic expectations (You are the answer to everything that is wrong with me and will therefore make me happy and feel loved), which set us up for disappoint and both little hurts and very, very deep hurts. Oh, and did I mention that none of us get it right 100% of the time, but the hardest thing in my life is to see the part I play in the hurts of my relationships. As Brené Brown observes, I almost always have a story to explain what you’ve done that is thoughtless, wrong and hurtful when things drift sideways, but rarely admit my part with clarity and honesty.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that “love does not keep a record of wrongs.” But isn’t that what we so often do? Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.” (Matthew 6:12) Do I have to? What if someone in my life is constantly making the same mistakes over and over again? What if that person is me? I do identify with Paul’s lament that he finds himself doing the things he doesn’t want to do, and not doing the things he wants to be doing…over and over again. (Romans 7)

When Jesus was asked about dealing with the regular offender, Jesus raised the bar to what feels like an impossible height: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven, because the Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants’ accounts…” (Matthew 18:21-23)  The story Jesus tells is of a man forgiven an impossible sum to repay by the king, but then going right out and demanding that a man who owed him a pittance repay it immediately. Having been forgiven much, the man was unforgiving toward his neighbor. Jesus concluded with the warning that it didn’t end well for that man, for when the king learned of his refusal to pass on the grace, the king revoked his generosity and threw him in debtors prison.

I know there are big hurts in our lives. We can blame the people in our lives, but blame is a dead-end street that leaves us in a darker place of hurt and isolation. What we can do is acknowledge our hurts, take responsibility for our part, and extend God’s grace both to ourselves, and the others who share our lives.

One of the practices that helps get rid of the garbage hurts that inevitably pile up in our lives is the “scapegoat”. Unfortunately, what we call scapegoating today is a gross misappropriation of an ancient practice that did some relational housecleaning every year. And that’s what I am proposing to do. You can read about the practice in Leviticus 16:20-22. But we’re not going to just talk about it…we’ll have a live scapegoat in our midst Sunday. This is going to be one you don’t want to miss!

“When Aaron finishes making atonement for the Holy of Holies, the Tent of Meeting, and the Altar, he will bring up the live goat, lay both hands on the live goat’s head, and confess all the iniquities of the People of Israel, all their acts of rebellion, all their sins. He will put all the sins on the goat’s head and send it off into the wilderness, led out by a man standing by and ready. The goat will carry all their iniquities to an empty wasteland; the man will let him loose out there in the wilderness.”