PALM SUNDAY – YEAR B
March 28, 2022 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Isaiah 50:4-7 | Psalm 22:8-9;17-20;23-24
Philippians 2:6-11 | Mark 15:1-47
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
About two weeks ago, a White man shot eight people in Atlanta. Whatever his motivation, he perpetrated an evil act. I refuse to name him from the pulpit because he deserves no fame or publicity of any kind. But the victims are real human people whose names we should never forget. They are:
Soon Chung Park
Hyun Jung Grant,
Yong Ae Yue,
Delaina Ashley Yaun,
Paul Andre Michels,
Xiaojie Tan, and
I apologize for any mispronunciations.
A spokesperson for the local law enforcement agency said the killer was, “Just having a bad day. I find that hard to believe. Of these eight victims, seven were women. Six of them were Asian. Two were White. Six out of eight victims were Asian. All were killed at Asian places of business. From these facts, one cannot help but conclude that race and/or gender played a role in the killer’s motives.
The bottom line is this killer committed a hate crime. Eight innocent people are dead because of the evil thoughts that percolated within this man.
People of all political persuasions will agree with me that this man should spend what remains of his life in prison to protect the rest of us, no matter what his motive was. But the motive for his actions does matter to assist in focusing attention on the racism and sexism permeating the world so that we might better address these issues within the human community to prevent future crimes.
Scapegoating is the issue involved in both the Atlanta killings and the killing of Jesus on the cross that we heard in today’s Gospel. The most common definition of a scapegoat is a person or group blamed for misdeeds or misfortunes of others, akin to being a fall-guy or being thrown under the bus.
To scapegoat a person or group is always based on falsehoods, and therefore, is always unjust. For example, White supremacists blame immigrants for taking jobs from citizens, when, in fact, that is not true.
Scapegoats are never hard to find. They are found throughout human history. Scapegoated groups throughout the ages have included almost every imaginable group of people: genders, religions, people of different races, nations, or sexual orientations, people with different political beliefs, or other people differing in behavior from the majority. Dwight Eisenhower once said, “The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.” Most of us at some time in our lives have been a scapegoat for others, or perhaps we’ve scapegoated others for our benefit.
The term “scapegoat” had an early religious origin. The Book of Leviticus describes a Day of Atonement ritual wherein a goat is sent into the wilderness to take away the sins of the community.
Anthropologist René Girard taught that all human activity is mimetic, that is, it is directed towards getting for oneself that which someone else has. For Girard, all human conflicts result from mimetic rivalry. When conflict eventually reaches destructive stages between individuals and social groups, eventually someone or something is blamed to defuse conflict through the scapegoat mechanism wherein a disfavored person or group is blamed for everything.
That’s what happened with Jesus. The religious community of his day was divided between super-legalistic Pharisees, power-hungry Sadducees, favor-seeking Herodians, and the Zealots, whose agenda was to overthrow the Roman Empire. Jesus did not fit with any of those groups and was seen as a troublemaker. The religious community blamed him for everything and demanded that he be killed.
But Jesus was guilty of no objective evil. He did not assault or kill anyone. He didn’t steal anything. He didn’t deceive anyone. He didn’t break up anyone’s marriage. Objectively, Jesus damaged no one. You will recall that in today’s Passion Gospel from Mark, Pilate did not accuse Jesus of any wrongdoing. We heard Pilate ask the crowd, “What evil has he done?” But the crowd did not answer Pilate’s question. Instead, the crowd’s response was, “Crucify him.”
The crowd hated Jesus and wanted him dead. That he was innocent did not matter. What mattered to the crowd was only that the crowd hated Jesus. The crowd wanted Jesus dead, innocent or not. And he was crucified.
Like Jesus, the eight people killed in Atlanta were innocent of any crime.
Like Jesus, the perpetrator in Atlanta suffered no wrong from his victims.
Like Jesus, the Atlanta victims were killed because of who they were, not what they did.
The perpetrator killed them out of pure hatred for who they were.
The leading motivations for murder are robbery and revenge. But here is where hate crimes are different. Hate crimes focus on the victim’s identifying characteristics, not the victim’s actions in relation to the perpetrator. Hate crimes are motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, occupation, and similar.
When victims are harmed because they are Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or White, it is a hate crime.
When victims are harmed because they are female or male, it is a hate crime.
When victims are harmed because they are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or any other religion, it is a hate crime.
When victims are harmed because they are Polish, Scottish, Danish, or of any other nationality, it is a hate crime.
When victims are harmed because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or straight, it is a hate crime.
And believe it or not, when victims are harmed because they are police officers, it is a hate crime.
Like the eight Atlanta victims, Jesus was not crucified for what he did. Again. Jesus committed no objective wrong against anyone in the crowd calling for his death. Jesus was crucified because of who he was.
Jesus was crucified because of his religious teachings. The crowd didn’t like the doctrines he preached. Jesus was a theological subversive by the mere fact he taught love in place of vengeance and living according to the letter of the law.
The killing of Jesus arose out of the same emotions that motivated the Atlanta murderer. The crucifixion of Jesus was done out of hate, pure and simple. Though he was killed, at least arguably, under the color of law, Jesus was the victim of a hate crime.
The past six years have seen a significant rise in hate crimes in the United States. During the Pandemic, hate crimes directed against Asians have risen one hundred forty-nine percent. Unfortunately, the most recent previous President of the United States blamed Chinese people for the spread of Covid Nineteen, using such phrases as, “kung flu” and “China virus” in public speeches broadcast to millions of people in the United States and all over the world.
Some of the former President’s supporters took his words at face value to justify acts of violence against Asian American citizens. They have been spat upon, punched, pushed to the ground, and even killed, as we just saw in Atlanta. What these events say loud and clear is that words matter, and that leadership matters.
Fortunately, not all Republicans are like the most recent former President. Mainstream Republican figures have condemned the former President’s race-baiting rhetoric in strong language.
And the Democratic Presidents are not without a spot of sin on the scapegoating issue. During World War Two, Franklin Delano Roosevelt rounded up Japanese citizens of the United States and sent them to internment camps.
Again, words matter. Leadership matters. For that reason, I urge the present Administration in Washington not to scapegoat Republicans for all the problems currently on the public agenda and instead look within themselves as to how they might have become part of the problem. For example, did the business shutdowns decreed by dictatorial state governors breed distrust and dislike of government generally?
Demonizing a person or group, whether done by those on the left or those on the right, is equally wrong. And it invites scapegoating, the very thing that motivated the Atlanta killer.
All forms of scapegoating are bad. I speak as one who has always been and always will be, outside the mainstream wherever I have gone, and whatever I have done. Because I am that way, I have been a frequent scapegoat. But there is one form of scapegoating that I find particularly upsetting, and that is anti-Semitism, shorthand for discrimination against Jewish people. It is totally irrational and based on falsehoods. There is simply no excuse for it, ever.
First and foremost, Jesus was an observant Jew throughout his life. He lived and died as a Jew. A Christian who promulgates hatred of Jews promulgates hatred of Jesus. That should settle the issue, but anti-Semitism seems to arise during Holy Week when some people inaccurately read the scriptures in a way that assigns blame to Jews for killing Jesus. My first reaction to that is, “What a disgusting way to use the Bible.”
Here are the facts. The Jews in the days of Jesus did not have the legal right to impose the death penalty. Only the Roman Empire could do that. Even though he knew Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, allowed the killing of Jesus, even though he had the power to stop it. The Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the Cross. A Roman centurion stabbed Jesus to be sure he was dead. The Roman Empire killed Jesus, not the Jewish community.
And even if the Jews of the First Century A-D were in some way responsible for the death of Jesus, to blame today’s Jews for their acts is fundamentally unfair. Inherited guilt for the crimes of one’s forbears is irrational and stupid.
Second, I cannot help but observe that the contemporary Jewish community has achieved more personal and material success than the trailer trash that perpetuates anti-Semitism. You may recall a demonstration in Virginia several years ago featuring individuals marching and carrying torches while shouting, “Jews will not replace us.”
Every Jewish person I know has more value than any of them, and if I had my way, the Jewish community I know would replace every single one of them.
Scapegoating never solves any problems. It merely perpetuates problems. And allowing scapegoating to continue legitimizes it as an appropriate response. Scapegoating is always bad despite historical precedent.
How do we avoid scapegoating?
First, we should recognize that all persons are created in God’s image and never deserving of verbal abuse or physical assaults of any kind for any reason. Unfortunately, some people grow up in homes where parents behave in that way towards their children and excuse it as “social custom.” Because children look to parents as behavioral models, it is a very bad custom that must end, always and everywhere.
Second, we should learn to be objective in analyzing situations rather than rely on the knee-jerk response of feelings based on perceptions instead of facts. Learn to put your feelings aside and relentlessly investigate the facts and uncover evidence in an unprejudiced way. Don’t investigate to develop facts that support your position and ignore facts that do not. Come to a conclusion after the investigation is completed instead of before it starts.
Third, change your conclusion if different facts arise after your initial conclusion. Consider the over one hundred fifty people the Innocence Project has saved from Death Row. No one is right one hundred percent of the time. When the facts supporting your conclusion vanish, your conclusion should, too.
Fourth, don’t harbor ongoing hostility or rejection toward other people based on past events. I know it’s convenient to keep a habitual blame target to satisfy your feelings and avoid doing the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation, but Jesus invites us to towards the future by an ongoing renewal of your life and the relationships that comprise it.
Fifth, anytime you see scapegoating happening, never participate in it and always call it out, even if it means losing friends. Ask yourself if people who engage in scapegoating behavior should be your friends.
Sixth, and most importantly, be an anti-scapegoat by openly favoring the interests of groups who’ve suffered from scapegoating. As my personal rebellion against the scapegoating of Asian people, I am going to obtain takeout or delivery of Asian food from Asian-owned restaurants once a week for eight weeks. This will be my way of showing my appreciation of how Asians have benefitted the United States, and I invite everyone to do the same.
Finally, you can avoid scapegoating others if you stay humble as Jesus was. In today’s Second Reading, we learn that Jesus emptied himself of his divinity to become one of us. He humbled Himself to be born as a human person like the rest of us.
Scapegoating others never occurs to the truly humble person.
Humble people are secure in their own identity.
Humble people have no need to put down others to build up themselves.
Humble people recognize they are not perfect and neither is anyone else.
Humble people are slow to offend and quick to forgive.
Humble people don’t feel entitled and instead are grateful for whatever blesses their lives.
Humble people have no need to blame others for their problems and instead take personal responsibility for what is within their orbit of control.
Humble people are always willing to learn and improve.
Humble people recognize their own limitations.
Humble people ask for help when needed.
Humble people approach life in an objective manner without the emotional baggage of pre-conceived notions about other people.
Scapegoating and humility do not mix. To paraphrase the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent in the Book of Common Prayer, Jesus came to us in great humility to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Scapegoating is a work of darkness. The armor of light comes from humility. AMEN.