May 30, 2007

The resurrection narratives display a dramatic change compared to the old cycles of victimage. There were two outcomes to the old patterns of victimage. In one outcome, the victim is voiceless. Thus, after the killing and violence the victim is forgotten, his/her particular story is lost to history. In the second outcome, the victim has a voice. That is, upon the death of the victim the family, friends, and/or followers of the victim rise up and demand vengeance. Thus, rounds of reciprocal, eye-for-eye violence emerges.

Both outcomes are evil. In the first outcome the voice of the scapegoat is silenced. In the second outcome violence escalates after the killing of the scapegoat. Is there a way to break these ancient patterns?

Yes. In the resurrection narrative the scapegoat returns bearing the scars of human violence. The scapegoat now has a voice. But that voice does not cry for revenge. No, the first word of the Living Lord is "Peace." This new pattern breaks the old cycles of victimage. Human violence has been absorbed by God, exposing its evil mechanisms, and God now replaces violence with peace.

The story of the early church continues to highlight the evils of scapegoating and how we are saved from its cycles of violence (i.e., by standing with the victim). In the sermon and stoning of Stephen and in the conversion stories of Paul we see violence still at work (in the stoning of Stephen and Saul's persecution of the church). But we also see the newly paved route to salvation: standing with God on the side of victims. Specifically, at his moment of death Stephen echos Jesus' cry from the cross: Father, forgive them! In Saul's conversion Jesus is identified three times in the book of Acts as "the one you are persecuting." That is, Jesus' identity is the identity of the victim. This identification saves Saul as it it saves us.

In our final reflections we turned to the book of Hebrews, the source of most of the sacrificial language in the New Testament. Two points of convergence between the substitutionary and non-sacrifical readings of Hebrews were noted. First, in Hebrews Jesus is identified as the "perfect" sacrifice due to his sinlessness. In the subsitutionary reading, Jesus' sinlessness makes him the ideal locus for God's violent wrath. In the non-sacrifical reading, Jesus is also read as a perfect sacrifice due to his sinlessness. That is, as noted in the last class, Jesus' innocence (sinlessness) is necessary to expose the wickedness of human actions. If Jesus were not sinless then humans might cite a reason or excuse for his killing. But if Jesus is sinless these excuses are exposed as lies.

The second convergence of the substitutionary and non-sacrifical readings of Hebrews is that both readings agree that the "perfection" of Jesus' sacrifice is manifested in the end of sacrifice. That is, both readings agree that the death of Jesus, a sacrifice in both readings, produces a faith that is extricated from bloodshed. After the cross, the Christian faith requires no more bloodshed. No more victims.



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