Franciscan Spirit Blog

Lent with Richard Rohr: The Scapegoat and Scapegoating

Good Friday | Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; John18:1-19:42


Today the primary human problem, the core issue that defeats human history, is both revealed and resolved. It is indeed a “good” Friday. The central issue at work is the human inclination to kill others, in any multitude of ways, instead of dying ourselves—to our own illusions, pretenses, narcissism, and self-defeating behaviors. Jesus dies “for” us not in the sense of “in place of ” but “in solidarity with.” The first is merely a heavenly transaction of sorts; the second is a transformation of our very soul and the trajectory of history.

Cain has forever been killing Abel, the pattern is revealed from the very first children of Adam and Eve. Yet, thank God, and usually unnoticed, even Cain is “marked” for protection as he wanders East of Eden (Genesis 4:16). That marking became for Christians “the sign of the cross,” our vaccination against killing—and being killed by our killing! But our vaccination did not always take; we who “worshiped” the Scapegoat usually became scapegoaters too. Always the problem was “elsewhere” than in ourselves, or merely outside instead of inside.

The soul needed one it could “gaze upon” long enough to know that it was we who were doing the “piercing” (John 19:37) and we who were being pierced in doing it. Jesus’ body is a standing icon of what humanity is doing and what God suffers “with,” “in,” and “through” us. It is an icon of utter divine solidarity with our pain and our problems. It is both an external exposing and an eternal holding of the Great Mystery. It is our central transformative image for the soul. Whenever you see an image of the crucified Jesus, know that it is the clear and central message unveiled. It reveals what humanity is doing to itself and to one another. Don’t lessen its meaning by making it merely into a mechanical transaction whereby Jesus pays some “price” to God or the devil. The only price paid is to the intransigent human soul—so it can see!

Humanity hates and attacks what it has every good reason to love—itself, God, and the rest of creation. It cannot say with Jesus, “Father, forgive them all, they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). None of us really knows what we are doing until the outer crucifix becomes the inner revelation of every act of human barbarism, war, torture, starvation, disease, abuse, oppression, injustice, early death, and absurd lives “from the blood of Abel the Holy to the blood of Zechariah whom you killed” (Matthew 23:35)! These are the first and last murders in the Jewish Bible of Jesus’ time, and Jesus seems to see them as one collective. It is the same and consistent human blindness since the beginning of time.

On the cross, the veil between the Holy and the unholy is “torn from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51), the “curtain of his body” becomes a “living opening” (Hebrews 10:20) through which we all can now walk into the Holy of Holies, which on different levels is both our own soul and the very heart of God. Nothing changed in heaven on Good Friday, but everything potentially changed on earth. Some learned how to see and to trust the contract between God and humanity. God has always and forever loved what God created, “It was good, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). It was we who could not love and see the omnipresent goodness. We were trapped outside the veil.

But now, as our Second Reading says today, we can “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor” (Hebrews 4:16). The curtain is, and always has been, wide open, as we see dramatized in the naked body and bleeding heart of Jesus, which we Catholics call “the Sacred Heart.” It seems we needed an image that shocking, dramatic, and compelling or we just could not get the point, see ourselves, or trust the Great Love.


“Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured. . . He was pierced for our offenses, and crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole.” [Now do not think of this as an act of suffering for nearly as much as an act of suffering with. It makes a major difference.]  —Isaiah 53:4–5

“‘Now it is finished.’ [The lie is over.] And he bowed his head and gave up His Spirit.’” [The truth was handed on to history.]  —John 19:30


“Crucified Jesus, you are not a stranger to my soul, you are not foreign to our history. You have revealed, resolved, and forgiven it all on the cross. I join the whole world today in thanking you. This is indeed a good Friday.”

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