This coming week we enter into our most sacred time as Church in the celebration of Holy Week. Twice this week we will hear the Passion narrative. Maybe, if we are honest with ourselves, because we have heard it so many times it is all too easy to go into auto pilot. So, it might be helpful to listen again to the story of the Passion with a special sensitivity towards the violence and suffering around us. How do the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus continue to inform human reality?
When I was in seminary, I became fascinated with the approach of René Girard (1923–2015) to the human sciences. He is most remembered for his decades long effort to confront violence, so that humanity would be better able to understand it, and therefore overcome it. He speaks a lot about scapegoating and sacrifice which, from archaic times to the present, reveal a lot about desires, self-deception, and social conflict. He rereads the Scriptures and other classical texts from this intuition. Blaming others for our own inadequacies and guilt continues to be one of the root causes of conflict in personal and social situations. Religion and religious institutions have struggled with this question throughout human history. As we hear the passion story, it reveals how love overcomes even death. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the heart of our faith and empowers us towards the quest for justice, especially the justice owed to victims.
The victims are the ones we refuse to regard as neighbors. The gospel reveals how we have a tendency to demonize those that are different than us. We have done this to our neighbors who are Asian, African American, followers of other religions, people with a different sexuality; the list could go on and on. The gospel reminds us that Christ comes to us as the marginalized members of society; they are the impoverished and sick who can’t make it; they come to us as refugees and helpless migrants; they have been often pushed into race/class/gender/cultural pigeon holes…. The names of these victims are heard through the atrocities of history and, especially, through our darkest moments such as the holocaust in Germany of our Jewish brothers and sisters. In our own day, it is heard from the incarcerated, and from the streaming families of migrants who want to escape the inhumanity inflicted on them by geo-political power, politics, and drug wars. The list is all too long, and the scapegoating never ends.
So, during this Lent, a time of wilderness to search out God’s way and not ours — which so easily and often unconsciously escapes into blaming others/scapegoating with myriads of concocted justifications to cover our own prejudices, let’s address our guilt before the compassion of our God, the God of mercy, who opens our eyes, our hearts, and spirits towards the truth emerging out of the most painful struggles of the victims among us. The gospel calls us to stand in solidarity with those who suffer and to see with a new vision that the death and resurrection of Jesus calls us to a rebirth, to be raised up to seeing the human dignity of all people and work to build a world of love, justice, and equality.