March 29, 2022, 11:00 AM

“It’s somebody’s fault.  I am unhappy, and I know it’s someone else’s fault.  If I can just ‘get even,’ I will feel better.”  Sound familiar?   


Vladimir Putin exemplifies the violence that comes from this type of thinking.  For him, the glory of his Russia has been decimated and somebody is to blame.  This time, it’s not a single person that holds culpability, but an entire country named Ukraine.  In Putin’s mind, there is only one mother country, Russia.  And, for him, there is also only one “Holy Church,” the Russian Orthodox Church.  The only problem is that the Russian Orthodox Church was founded, not in Moscow, but in Kyiv in 988 AD.  The glory of his own country and church cannot stand in the presence of a Ukrainian reality.  Putin attempted to take away his own unhappiness by blaming and then violently attacking Ukraine. 


The mantra of “blame the other” has been around since the beginning of time.  When God approved the sacrifice of Abel instead of Cain’s, Cain blames Abel and then kills him.  Violence and the targeting of another is an inbred reaction to being hurt.


Retaliatory violence is seen throughout Scripture.  Renee Girard, a contemporary philosopher, calls this “mimetic (or mirroring and repeating) violence.”   


The Jewish community gives us a clear example of how “scapegoating” occurred in its religious history.  The temple priest on Yom Kippur would offer up two goats – one for the Lord, and the other as an atonement for the sins of the people.  The priest would place the sins of the people upon the goat designated for the atonement.  A mob would then drive the goat out of the city causing it to die in the wilderness (Leviticus 16: 21-22) hence, the name “scapegoat.”  This ritual act symbolized the forgiveness of sin by God and welcomed (temporarily) peaceful coexistence when the mob’s fury ended.  However, because there is no real way out of sin, when things again became heated between people, the ritual needed to be repeated.  While this is an example within Jewish history, Girard found that every culture in the world actually perpetuates the same “scapegoating” mechanism in one form or another.   


The Christ seen in Lent shows us an example of how blaming and scapegoating comes to an end.  Jesus becomes the ultimate “scapegoat” who is blamed, suffers and dies at the hands of a sinful people seeking his demise.  However, unlike a traditional “scapegoat,” Jesus returns; and instead of seeking revenge on the people who persecuted him, he refuses to repeat the cycle of violence.  He never strikes back.  Instead, Jesus proclaims, “Fear not, peace be with you.”  He has no need to retaliate because he knows true life is experienced in God alone and not “getting even.”  Jesus breaks the cycle of “mimetic violence.”  There is now no need to hurt, blame or lash out at others.


Lent offers us a time to reflect on how we are all caught in the cycle of “mimetic violence” through wanting to “get even.”  May these Lenten days be filled with prayer, fasting and almsgiving instead of the practice of “getting even.”   What a wonderful resolution to “mimetic violence.” 


With prayer and encouragement,

Fr. John Meulendyk