Yet you bore our illnesses
and carried our suffering.
We thought you were being punished,
struck down by God, and brought low –
but it was for our offenses that you were pierced,
for our sins that you were crushed;
upon you lies a chastening that brings us wholeness,
and through your wounds we are healed.
It is very human to project our personal failures onto others. The Sacred in another time and understanding made room for this dynamic. Allowing the people of God, through their priestly representative, to lay hands on a goat and transfer all of the people’s failures and foibles onto the animal. This goat became the scapegoat. Its release into the wilderness carried the nasty and ugly projections away from the community.
Over the years we exchanged the goat for humans and release for death. Nothing short of blood atonement can satisfy our hatred of ourselves. Reflecting on this dynamic the French philosopher Reneé Gerard suggests the cultural purpose of religion is to give holy blessings upon the scapegoats of society. Even non-religious folk find it easier to kill others if there is a tacit agreement that universal-common-sense sanctions’ the violence of society.
The history of the U.S. is riddled with scapegoats. The “witches” of Salem took the brunt of the fears and failures associated with American Indian uprisings of the time; American Indians themselves were viewed to be in a pact with Satan as they fought to defend their homeland; the character of African-Americans was labeled “primitive” so that European society need not be bothered with the heinous legacy of slavery. Then there is the queer - we have been blamed for a host of problems related to the decline of Western power.
The servant of this passage is a scapegoat: infirmed, diseased, stricken, afflicted, wounded, crushed, punished, and bruised. I do not know of a more apt description of our experience. The scandalous insight of Isaiah is that far from being an abhorrent enemy of God, the scapegoat is an instrument for healing. Those that society deems to be the worst of sinners turn out to be the closest to the heart and ways of the Holy.
Jesus seemed to be attuned to this dynamic when he said, “You are fortunate when others insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward in heaven is great; they persecuted the prophets before you in the very same way” (Matthew 5:11-12).
Hmm – Jesus a scapegoat just like “witches,” “savages,” “niggers,” and “fags.”