Jesus on the cross echoes three healing images: the Passover lamb, the “Lifted-Up One,” and the scapegoat ritual. The third symbol deserves a deeper exploration because it is central to understanding how Jesus resets the pattern of history. We’ll spend this week looking at Jesus as scapegoat before we move on to the promise of resurrection.
Humans have always struggled to deal with fear and evil by ways other than forgiveness, most often through sacrificial systems. Philosopher René Girard (1923-2015) saw the tendency to scapegoat others as the primary story line of human history in every culture.  Why? Because it works, and it is largely an immediate and an unconscious egoic response. The scapegoat mechanism was ritualized by the Israelites, as we’ll see tomorrow (see Leviticus 16:20-22).
If your ego is still in charge, you will find a “disposable” person or group on which to project your problems. People who haven’t come to at least a minimal awareness of their own dark side will always find someone else to hate or fear. Hatred holds a group together much more quickly and easily than love and inclusivity, I am sorry to say. Something has to be sacrificed. Blood has to be shed. Someone has to be blamed, attacked, tortured, imprisoned, or killed. Sacrificial systems create religions and governments of exclusion and violence. Yet Jesus taught and modeled inclusivity and forgiveness!
Sadly, the history of violence and the history of religion are almost the same history. When religion remains at the immature level, it tends to create very violent people who ensconce themselves on the side of the good, the worthy, the pure, the saved. They project all their evil somewhere else and attack it over there. At this level, they export the natural death instinct onto others, as though it’s someone else who has to die.
As long as you can deal with evil by some means other than forgiveness, you will never experience the real meaning of evil and sin. You will keep projecting, fearing, and attacking it over there, instead of “gazing” on it within and “weeping” over it within yourself and all of us. The longer you gaze, the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sin of others, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling you are on higher moral ground. Forgiveness demands three new simultaneous “seeings”: I must see God in the other; I must access God in myself; and I must experience God in a new way that is larger than an “Enforcer.”
 I highly recommend James Alison’s exploration of René Girard’s work, particularly Alison’s four-part study series Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice (DOERS Publishing: 2013), http://www.forgivingvictim.com/.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 193-194.
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Father Richard Rohr visits Google to speak on his new book, Divine Dance: The Trinity and your Transformation. Father Rohr highlights his unique ideas on how to have a relationship with God in the modern day and how religious people can be respected for having a “mystic worldview” in a scientific world. If you can’t find the time to watch the full version – forward to the final 10 minutes for an awesome summation.
Brothers and sisters, I believe that behind every mistaken understanding of reality there is always a mistaken understanding of God. If you draw close to someone who is in a violent or fearful state, you will likely discover that his or her operative image of God (usually largely unconscious) is inadequate, distorted, or even toxic. That’s why good theology is still important.
I believe the ultimate purpose of theology is to clarify the central, foundational doctrine of the nature of the One at the center of it all, which many of us call “God.” For Christians, this became “Trinity,” a word not even found in the Bible. Yet it has emerged in the deepest levels of orthodox theology as the best way to describe the “shape” of God, and therefore, finally a study of the very shape and pattern of everything else created in this divine image (Genesis 1:26-27). I will be devoting the next three weeks to this theme, as I think it has tremendous practical, pastoral, and political implications. (Many of these meditations will be drawn from my new book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation.)
Only God in you can know God, so I hope you surround your reading with plenty of silence. You cannot know God in an intimate, experiential way with your mind alone. You are going to need full access knowing, which many of us call the contemplative mind, or even the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
I slowly uncovered over many years the material on the Trinity that I am about to share with you. There were special moments of breakthrough, however. One of these was several years ago, as I was coming to the end of a wonderful extended time in a hermitage during Lent. In the last days, I stumbled upon Catherine LaCugna’s extraordinary book on the Trinity, God for Us, in the retreat center’s library. It was a big book and looked rather formidable and academic. I wondered if I would be capable of understanding it. Even though I had decided not to read during my hermitage, I had a great urge to read it instead of re-reading my journals from the previous weeks.
As I began to read, I had the experience that I’m hoping you might have: I found myself saying, “Yes, yes! This is it! This sums up everything that I think I’ve experienced.”
To barely touch upon the mystery that is Trinity, let me begin by offering you this simple prayer. In some ways it might sum up what I’m going to try to say over the next few weeks.
God for us, we call you “Father.”
God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you “Holy Spirit.”
Together, you are the Eternal Mystery
That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us and even me.
Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness.
We can only see who you are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing—
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
Praise the source of faith and learning
that has sparked and stoked the mind
with a passion for discerning
how the world has been designed.
Let the sense of wonder flowing
from the wonders we survey
keep our faith forever growing
and renew our need to pray.
God of wisdom we acknowledge
that our science and our art
and the breadth of human knowledge
only partial truth impart.
Far beyond our calculation
lies a depth we cannot sound
where your purpose for creation
and the pulse of life are found.
May our faith redeem the blunder
of believing that our thought
has displaced the grounds for wonder
which the ancient prophets taught.
May our learning curb the error
which unthinking faith can breed
lest we justify some terror
with an antiquated creed.
As two currents in a river
fight each other’s undertow,
till converging they deliver
one coherent steady flow,
blend, O God, our faith and learning
till they carve a single course,
till they join as one, returning
praise and thanks to you, the Source.
If I live my life to perfection, doing what is right and good on behalf of others, but act with compulsion and without love, then I am nothing at all.
If I take care of the needs of everybody in the world, especially the poor, because of my own need to help, but am without love even for myself, then I am nothing at all.
If I am efficient and successful in all that I do for the sake of justice, but act out of drivenness and without love, then I am nothing at all.
If I am cultured and refined, and in touch with the pain of existence, but am absent from the pain of persons in the present moment who need my empathy; and if I act without love and compassion, then I am nothing at all.
If I have the gifts of wisdom, insight, and understanding, but am not engaged with those around me in the present moment and am without a spirit of compassion and love, then I am nothing at all.
If I am faithful, loyal, and obedient, and never deviate from the law, but am judgmental and blaming, and am without love, then I am nothing at all.
If I live in a pain-free world of dreams and plans, enjoying optimism and pleasurable options, but am not addressing present problems and am avoiding people in actual distress and am without love, then I am nothing at all.
If I am strong and powerful, but lose my best self in a spirit of resentment, retaliation, and vindictiveness, and know nothing of the vulnerability of love, then I am nothing at all.
If I am settled and accommodating, holding onto a sense of distance and calm, but am not journeying inward to know and appreciate my weaknesses and gifts, and am neglecting my own legitimate calling to love myself, then I am nothing at all.
Love is always patient and kind;
it is never jealous;
love is never boastful or conceited;
it is never rude or selfish;
it does not take offense, and is not resentful.
Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in truth;
it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.
Love never fails, never ceases.
The “holy fool” is the final stage of the full human journey. Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said, “It is those who become like little children who will enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 18:3). Jesus, in his frequent allusion to children, was in his own way describing this final stage of life. We return to that early childhood, as it were, running naked and exposed into the great room of life and death. “I am who I am who I am” now. God has accepted me in my most naked being, and I can now give it all back to God exactly as it is with conscious loving trust that it will be received. What else would God want?
Father Richard Rohr
From a theological perspective…fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces all finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction from another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.
“Meaning is not something found, or sought; it is something experienced along the way if one is fully flung into the matter.” James Hollis