Looking for someone to blame...
Gospel: Luke 13:31-35
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ 32He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’
Podcast from 11am Service, courtesy of Pilgrim Church
We have spent years placing children, even babies, in what amount to concentration camps in Australia and offshore. We have been implacable about this, and unmoved by growing international condemnation. But a man writes a song about Cardinal Pell who may not have correctly reported or responded to the abuse of children years ago and, in a couple of days, we raise nearly 200,000 dollars so people can go to Rome watch him testify.
Do you see a certain contradiction and paradox in all that?
Cardinal Pell has not helped his own cause. His public persona has thoroughly convinced many Australians that he is uncaring about past abuses.
Anglican Priest Father Chris Bedding writes of Pell:
He has, almost flawlessly, taken on the role of a scapegoat. He was already a sacred figure. Now the mob, consumed by anger, wants to lay on him the sins of the whole tribe and destroy him. 'Vengeance is sweet' we will all tell ourselves, as he becomes our sacrificial lamb, just as he made those abused children into sacrificial lambs..
Personally, I hope that the Royal Commission shows Cardinal Pell the same demanding courtesy it shows every other witness, and I hope it grants him absolutely no preferential treatment.
But this is not a sermon about Cardinal Pell. This is a sermon about us.
What Australia is doing, this week, is lining up a scapegoat for the kill. We did it with Lindy Chamberlain— the rage of the nation was tipped upon her.
More currently, our scapegoating has been of refugees. The nation has been invited to unite— Team Australia— around hatred of these ordinary people who are just a little different. We also do it with people who are old, disabled, and unemployed. We have a word— dole bludger. How can we dare to use this of a person when in Australia there are something like 5 unemployed people for every vacant job? (http://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2015/jan/19/despite-good-news-on-the-unemployment-rate-the-fight-for-jobs-is-as-tough-as-ever) But there is constant pressure to punish, to lower pensions, to force sick people back into the workforce.
Scapegoating allows us to punish an individual or group, who can't fight back, and to tip all the blame for our problems onto them. When there is someone to blame, we don't have to deal honestly with ourselves.
I find it fascinating that a couple of weeks after the churches, and the doctors, and #letthemstay, have thoroughly shamed the nation that we have, as a nation—and on the front pages— suddenly stopped the focus on the children, and fastened our teeth into Cardinal Pell. We need someone to blame, and when we are finally too ashamed to keep blaming the children, what better person upon whom to fixate than an old failing Cardinal who allegedly has not looked after the children in the way he should have done!
What we do in all this is
a) We sacrifice real people to pay for our sins. Punishing the unemployed and the sick is making them pay for the comfort of the rich and the negative gearers who don't pay tax.
b) This means we vent our rage and violence upon the undeserving, instead of sublimating, or converting it, to energy to face whatever it is that we are afraid of, or whatever it is that is wrong with the fabric of our country
c) Scapegoating is violence. It picks on someone who is mostly innocent, and often completely innocent, of what we are pinning on them. So we anaesthetise ourselves to violence. We get used to it. We reinforce the cycle of violence in our country.
d) We pat ourselves on the back about punishing the scapegoat, and then we forget the real victims. Remember those 12000 Syrian refugees we are taking? We have managed to settle 26!!! of the 12000 Syrian refugees in we promised in November. In that same time Canada has resettled 20,490. (http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/canada-has-rescued-800-times-more-syrian-refugees-than-australia-figures-show-20160217-gmw7dz.html)
The more we focus on Pell in the next few weeks, the less we will do as a country to deal with the sexual abuse of children.
What does the bible say? "… it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Hebrews 10:10) That is; there is no more need for sacrifice. When we Christians look for scapegoats, or assent to scapegoating, we "are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt." (Hebrews 6:6)
The scholar Rene Girard discerned a difference between the bible and many other epic texts. The bible is about real people, not mythic heroes. It doesn't matter that some biblical stories may, in fact, be legendary; they present real humans, for example, a real man Cain who for some reason doesn't measure up to what God wanted. And he deals with it not by manning up, but by blaming his brother and killing him.
This is classic scapegoat territory, and no different from the mother cat in our house, who if she got in trouble with the humans for stealing food, would immediately find her daughter cat and beat up. Scapegoating is our barely-more-than-animal selves. Scapegoating— these are my words, not Girard's— is the pressure release valve which lets our animal violence out slowly instead of it coming in totally destructive explosions. But it never deals with the violence—
But the Old Testament, along with all the violence, which it does not try to hide, constantly and transparently shows the innocence of the scapegoats, says Girard. And finally it comes to a head with the crucifixion of Jesus. He is the scapegoat: "You don't realize that it's better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed," says Caiaphas in John 11:50. The words are repeated during Jesus' trial.
But Jesus is clearly innocent. Luke's gospel, the gospel for this year, declares Jesus innocent 6 times by four different people. Pilate says three times that he finds no guilt in Jesus. (Luke 23:4, 14 and 22) Herod found him not guilty. (Luke 23: 15) The criminal on the cross says Jesus had done nothing wrong, (Luke 23:41) and his executioner, the centurion says, "This man was innocent." (Luke 23:47).
We are being taught a lesson. The scapegoat is innocent. Our rage is misplaced. The problem is elsewhere. It is in us.
So when the son of god himself is killed, and then comes back, does he seek revenge?
No. He says, "Peace be with you." (Luke 24:36)
Violence is replaced with forgiveness and reconciliation. The sacrifice in Luke is replaced with the communion: he sits at table with the people who killed him— Luke takes care to tell us "they all shouted" for his death— (23:18) and is reconciled. The first resurrection appearance in Luke is at Communion!
We are saved by Jesus' death because we are steered away from the violence of scapegoating and shown a new way to live. Our violence can be sublimated— redirected— into energy for reconciliation and forgiveness. When we celebrate eucharist we are celebrating what the people of Jesus' time, and people from time immemorial, would recognise as a rite of sacrifice, a celebration of the death of a scapegoat….
… except they would see in our actions not exclusion and violence, but love, forgiveness, reconciliation, acceptance of all people, repudiation of violence… wouldn't they?
Now we come to the day's reading from Luke, in just a few short words. In this reading Jesus weeps for Jerusalem. It says nothing about tears, but you can hear them behind the text.
… today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
He weeps for the people who will kill him. He does not excuse them: the next words, "See, your house is left to you," are pronouncement of terrible consequences, but he weeps for them. He has compassion for those who will kill him.
He still sees they are human. And instead of blaming them, instead of damning them, instead of walking away, we see him go to Jerusalem and let them kill him. His ultimate compassion is to ty to love the people who will kill him.
This is what changes everything. If we love the ones we want to blame, if we love our enemies, if we love our neighbour as ourselves, we cannot be violent towards them. Compassion not only grants some mercy to them; it saves and heals us from ourselves.
So as we go out this week to work for justice, it would serve us well to consider the Cardinal Pells and the Peter Duttons of this world. And, instead of hating, to wonder, "Peter, what went wrong? How did you come to this? What's happening in your soul? Would I be different, if I were in your shoes?"
This will redirect our energy. It will humanise our nation. And it will open us to God's salvation and humanise us, so that we will not one day find God asking of us, "Andrew, what went wrong!? Why did you do that!? How could you!?"
for you see… violence— no matter how righteous it seems, no matter how justifiable it appears— violence always turns us into the enemy we despised. Compassion shapes us in the image of the Christ who wept even for his enemies.
A number of people have told me that things are much better now, and that all the fuss over these relatively few people is simply political action against the coalition government. Any child in a concentration camp is one too many. There has been constant and faithful criticism of all political parties who support mandatory detention. I consider that the three major parties are equally guilty, and have been in, as we say, a race to the bottom, to prove their hostility to asylum seekers.
A breakdown of the statistics does show a decrease in the number of children in detention, but also shows their time in detention is increasing.
To deflect the call to justice as simply "being political" seems to me to demonstrate a blindness of compassion, as does the claim that clergy should not preach on such things.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!