The Easter story you've never heard of
This Easter, I'd like to offer another way to understand what Jesus did on the cross.
We live in a world racked with more and more violence. (I live in a country that lost more than a million citizens to a brutal civil war - not to mention hundreds of thousands of deaths by American bombs).
But as Christians, we haven’t always offered a Christlike nonviolent alternative. Which is super SAD, because what Jesus did at Easter was the ULTIMATE act in God’s plan to overcome violence in the world.
There are heaps and heaps of theories about what the cross meant. These atonement theories have sometimes fallen short of describing what happened. Frankly it's a mystery that I struggle to comprehend.
But this Easter let's look at the cross from another angle. One with huge ramifications for how we walk in the world. This perspective goes all the way back to the earliest Christians. But it speaks directly to our world today.
What if this Easter we rediscovered the nonviolent way of Jesus? The One who in a dramatic final act on the cross, overcame the darkness and violence of the world. And in doing so, saved us all.
The ultimate scapegoat
To understand this perspective on the cross it helps to have a little background.
A few decades ago a Roman Catholic scholar named René Girard observed that throughout human history we have grappled with how to stop violence and conflict from tearing our communities apart.
He described the way groups of people typically deal with their internal group conflicts - by projecting their violence onto a scapegoat.
Girard pointed out that scapegoating is as old as human society itself, and can be seen in every community and in every group.
You've probably seen it or experienced it a bunch of times yourself. A group of people - prone to bickering or infighting - suddenly develops a sense of new-found unity around their blame of some poor sucker that is different in some way.
Think of it as Mean Girls for the rest of us.
The frenzied crowd will not rest until that person or group is expelled (or in extreme cases destroyed).
And then everyone can breathe easy, for a temporary sense of relief and calm has been restored.
The funny thing is, it's pretty easy to see that other people’s scapegoats are innocent victims, falsely accused of wrongdoing. But our own scapegoats seem to us like terrible people - BAD-guys who deserve our hatred and blame. This is a major blindspot.
We see the innocence of other people’s scapegoats but never our own.
As an outsider here in Asia, it's easy to see that many Cambodians have made scapegoats of the Vietnamese in their midst (especially when whipped up by the local versions of Donald Trump - Yes EVERY country has 'em, and they want your vote). Vietnamese are now being rounded up and deported. Their businesses targeted. Their children picked on. Even by Christians...
It's easy to see how the Rohingya people in Burma are unfairly maligned and mistreated by the Burmese government and wider society. They have been hounded out of Myanmar, onto rickety boats as refugees and asylum seekers along the coasts of South-East Asia.
Political leaders who use this trick are a dime a dozen. Throughout history they have cunningly played on our fears and rallied us around their cause by focusing our hatred onto the designated scapegoats.
In 2019, in many Western countries those scapegoats happen to be Muslims, Mexicans and refugees.
In the past those scapegoats have been Jews, Japanese, Blacks, Communists, Catholics, or people who liked the musical stylings of Michael Bolton...
In fact, almost every marginalized group has found themselves with that unwanted spotlight on them at one time or another.
But, here's where this idea gets SUPER interesting for us as Christians...
Does the term "scapegoat" strike you as vaguely Biblical?
I'm guessing it does. Because it originally comes from Leviticus 16:8 - where a particularly unlucky goat was designated as the sacrifice that would take on the sins of the community and be cast out into the desert (not as unlucky as the other goat which was designated to be butchered though). Most ancient societies had similar practices.
As Christians, we recognize that Jesus was the LAST scapegoat. The scapegoat to end all scapegoating! The one who came to put an end to our violence and hatred and evil and sin, by willingly taking upon himself all that crap, once and for all. Christus Victor.
"Christ was offered ONCE to bear the sins of many..." (Hebrews 9:28)
Girard describes it like this, "Christ, the son of God, is the ultimate “scapegoat” - precisely because he is the son of God, and since he is innocent, he exposes all the myths of scapegoating and shows that the victims were innocent and the communities guilty."
This Easter, let us be reminded to be wary when our political leaders invite us to join in a perverted kind of unity, where we rally around our hatred of those who are different. The excitement of scapegoating.
Because the work of Jesus on the cross puts an end to our violence and scapegoating forever.
Some would say, Jesus was not sacrificed to appease an angry deity. Instead, Jesus, God himself, entered our society and became the scapegoat, and in doing so, eliminated the need for any future scapegoats or sacrifices. God didn’t demand a scapegoat. We did.
It is a mystery worthy of the God of the universe.
Isn’t it time we told a new story about Easter? A story more faithful to the heart of Jesus?
The Gospel of Jesus invites us all to lay our need to scapegoat at Jesus' feet. The Gospel of Jesus takes our violence and hatred of others, and exchanges those things for love and the radical welcome of Christ.
In the words of Jesus, "It is over."
PS. At Alongsiders we attempted to capture this beautiful gospel story in an animated video that would make sense in the Non-Western world. Check it out and let me know what you think. (It’s quite possibly the first animated telling of the gospel for children created in Asia, for Asian children - coming from an honour/shame, relational perspective, that most Western presentations miss.)