The article of the month

A LIGHT UNTO MY PATH by Bishop Robert Barron

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

The French philosopher René Girard proposed a provocative theory regarding the scapegoating mechanism. During times of crisis, he argued, human communities, by a deep and irrational impulse, seek to dispel the tensions they experience by identifying some person or some group whom they can collectively blame. One can see this dynamic at work on the smallest and on the grandest scale. When a handful of people enter into conversation, they will, for a time, speak harmlessly of superficialities, but almost inevitably, they will commence to blame, accuse, gossip. And entire nation-states often find their identity and purpose through a shared hatred of some group identified as dangerous or different. Hitler’s Germany is but an extreme example of the principle.

The Gospels appreciated the Girardian dynamic long before Girard. The story of the woman caught in adultery is a case in point (Jn 8:1-11). And so is a small narrative within the grand Passion narrative articulated by Saint Luke. The Evangelist tells us that Peter, on the awful night of Jesus’ arrest, joined a group in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, who had gathered around a fire, warming themselves against the cold. When they heard Peter’s Galilean accent, they one by one commenced to identify him as one of Jesus’ followers. Knowing full well what this might entail, Peter vehemently denied the charge, but they continued, hungry for a scapegoat. So panicked was the chief of the Apostles that he swore he had no knowledge of the Lord. The Girardian impulse distorts both the blamers and the blamed.

How wonderful and strange that Jesus, on the cross, became himself a scapegoated victim. The crucified Jesus demonstrates God’s judgment on this deep-seated and dysfunctional instinct.