Scapegoats Luke 18:31-19:10

31 Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. 33 After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” 34 But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

35 As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” 43 Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

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Three miracles. #1 TBA  in another week or so

#2 a blind man can see  

#3 a selfish, unhappy man can find joy in sharing.

Three ways of seeing. #1  Not “getting it.”

#2 physically impaired 

#3 self-centered

Three ways of being  

#1 Carrying the Gospel to the known world—eventually

#2 Giving God the glory for the healing power of Jesus.

#3 Repenting, not just apologizing. 

Three roadblocks #1 intellectual understanding

#2 bindness

#3 reputation 

Or we could see this as the story of 3 scapegoats

#1 the disciples

#2 the blind man

#3 Zacchaeus 

We know the term scapegoat well enough—it’s the person who gets the blame when we don’t want to accept the blame for ourselves.  Do you know the origin?  

In the ancient days of the temple in Jerusalem, on the high holiday of Yom Kippur, the priest would symbolically lay the sins of all the people on the head of a goat and the goat would be chased into the wilderness, carrying, symbolically, the sins of the people away from them. In other words, whatever sins anyone had committed were now on the goat, not on them.

How are the disciples scapegoats in this story?  It doesn’t fit the context. 

Let’s define the blind man as scapegoat first. Let the blind man stand for all who have lost sight or strength or opportunity. Let the blind man stand for the people who need us, need our resources.  This is a stretch, but to fit my formula, let me stretch the metaphor this way: Do we ever complain about those who can’t care for themselves? Do we blame them for needing what is ours as a society—our property, our food, our healthcare?  Do we blame them instead of the people who legislate to make themselves wealthier?  

Zacchaeus falls into the same category. He represents all that is wrong about Roman oppression and< because he takes something that is very precious to everyone—their money, they blame him for the taking of their money, not the Roman government.  Scapegoating is often just intellectual laziness.  

Back to the disciples: how can they be scapegoats in this text? Remember, I used to teach Creative Writing, so anything can happen.  🙂

For the third time (in Luke’s gospel) Jesus predicted his arrest, trial, death and resurrection to the disciples.

 31 Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. 33 After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” 

The disciples didn’t understand, couldn’t believe that Jesus could be serious.  Why would Jesus, kind, gentle, healing, loving, perfect Jesus be handed over to the Gentiles, the Roman authorities?  Why would anyone mock Jesus? How could anyone insult Jesus? And spit on a person who hurt no one? Flogging?  Out of the question! That was for criminals. Kill him? Why? Rise again? But that wasn’t possible. Was Jesus losing his mind?  Hallucinating? 

How could they not question Jesus, ask him to explain, be more careful about protecting him?  The gospels sometimes make the disciples look clueless, ignorant, dumb, stupid. The writer of the Gospel of Mark is especially hard on the disciples.

14 Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” 16 They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” 17 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.”

And Jesus said, “Duh!” 

Maybe this example applies only to me.  Maybe you’ve never struggled to understand the meaning of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Maybe you’ve never struggled to understand why God would send his only Son to redeem all of us from our sinfulness by such a torturous method.   Maybe you’ve never said, “Nobody’s perfect!” How are the disciples scapegoats, then?  For me, it is this: The disciples were with Jesus every day for three years.  They heard him teach and preach over and over and over. And they didn’t understand.  How am I, two millennia later, supposed to understand why my professors try to teach me? How am I supposed to be able to explain why God sent Jesus to live a mundane life among peasants?  How am I supposed to be able to explain why Jesus had to die, not a natural death, but an excruciating death?  And how am I supposed to understand how Jesus could defeat death? What does that even mean, to defeat death?

How do I use the disciples as scapegoats? If they couldn’t understand what Jesus was talking about, how could I possibly understand?

Here’s the funny thing: I don’t need to be a scholar to follow Jesus.  I don’t need to be a genius to understand what Jesus did for me. I don’t need to be any smarter than the next guy to be a Christian.  What do I need?

Faith. I only need to know that God loved me and every other person so much that God found a way to forgive my sins and welcome me into the Kingdom, today and forever.  My faith assures me that Jesus died so that, no matter how many times I fail and blame someone else, no matter how often or how badly or ignorantly I cause pain to someone else, I am saved, through His death and resurrection.  

Thanks be to God that Jesus walked that road to Jerusalem, plagued by dense disciples, harassed by the authorities of his own nation and faith tradition, and used as a scapegoat by Pontius Pilate.  Thanks be to God that we the beloved children of a God who loves us beyond comprehension.  Amen.

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