Art: “Sending Out the Scapegoat” by William James Webb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

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Written by Samuel Addo-Donkoh, Pastor, Hope UMC, Vienna, VA 

ink drawing “Sending Out the Scapegoat” by William James Webb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
“Sending Out the Scapegoat” by William James Webb

Leviticus 16:7-10

College was fun. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of joy and freedom, free from direct parental control and able to make my own decisions. I had left my parents’ house for college, so I reveled in this newfound independence and took full advantage of all the opportunities college offered. I delved deeper into my studies and continued to have fun, but a time came when things became rough, and I had to work hard to gain control over my life. I came to a profound realization as I sat down to reflect on the opportunity cost of my autonomy. I discerned that freedom and independence come at a cost. In my case, while this independence was an opportunity for personal growth, self-sufficiency, and the ability to make my own choices, which were valuable benefits, the trade-off was the loss of financial support, direct guidance, and the comfort of a familiar environment. Sometimes, when things do not go as we anticipate, we find it easier to shift blame unto others instead of looking deep into ourselves for what we did wrong and owning up to it. I cannot imagine the number of times my entire division got punished because one shipmate messed up but would not own up to it. You know what a scapegoat is, right?  

Easter is a time of joy and celebration as we remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the triumph of life over death. But Lent presents the window of opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. I would like us to look at an aspect of this sacrifice using the scapegoat concept. 

In the Old Testament, the Israelites would perform a ritual in which they would place the community’s sins on the head of a goat, which would then be sent into the wilderness. This goat, known as the “scapegoat,” bore the people’s sins and symbolically carried them away (Leviticus 16:7-10). In our modern world, we often use the term “scapegoat” to refer to someone who is unjustly blamed for the mistakes of others. However, as seen in the book of Leviticus, the scapegoat’s true meaning is one of sacrifice, atonement, and redemption. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read that Jesus, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus became the ultimate scapegoat for our sins. He willingly took upon himself the punishment that we deserved and carried our sins away through his death on the cross. Just as the Israelites placed their sins on the head of the goat, we, too, can put our sins on Jesus and find forgiveness (Matthew 11:28-30).  

As Christians, redeemed of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it is crucial that we identify and eschew the various unhealthy forms in which scapegoating presents itself in our societies today. This is because scapegoating creates division and perpetuates harmful stereotypes. By blaming others for societal problems, we not only miss the opportunity to address the root causes, but also miss the chance to learn from each other and grow together. Furthermore, when we scapegoat, we are not acting in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Blame shifting keeps us from experiencing the transformative power of redemption and forgiveness, and instead perpetuates a cycle of hatred and division. 

As we fast, pray, and meditate during this Lenten period, I will join in the words of the apostle Paul in Hebrews 12:1-2 to admonish us, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author, and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Let us remember the sacrifice of Jesus and the true meaning of the scapegoat. Because he cares for us, let us cast all our anxiety on him and give thanks for the gift of eternal life he offers us through his death and resurrection. Amen. 

God bless you. 

Find previous “Picturing God” entries here:

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