"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Jesus As The Slain Scapegoat

"The Scapegoat" by William Holman Hunt, c. 1854*

hreefold reflection on the Gospel for today: It was during the month of September in 1939 when the deadliest Second World War began. Let us not be quick to put the blame all upon Adolf Hitler. Two years ago a documentary in London entitled “Private Lives,” claimed that Hitler was ‘very hands off’ in implementing murderous 'Final Solution' to his problem of the Jews. Dr Tracy Borman, the chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, examined Hitler’s private life, attempting to show how it related to his public behaviors. It showed that the Nazi dictator never visited an extermination camp. Dr Borman says, quote,
“While atrocities were being carried out in his name he never visited an extermination camp. When a train carrying Jews to the camps stopped on an adjacent platform to his Führer train, he pulled down the blinds… Hitler never wanted to be confronted with the brutal reality of what was going on. He just wanted to know that it was being done.”
“When it comes to the instigation of the Holocaust, there is no paper trail leading directly to Hitler himself. Quite typically, these horrifying plans seem to have grown out of one of the Führer’s private chats at the dinner table.”
This tells us that Hitler was not alone in the greatest crime ever committed against humanity. There were countless others.

The second point of our reflection is the context of the Gospel for today (Lk 9:7-9). Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, probably also over dinner time with his friends and kingdom officers. Herod is very similar to Hitler in being hands-off. Herod was just hearing things at a safe distance about the talk of the town—a man like John the Baptist who was already beheaded. If Herod were hands-on, he would know who this man, Jesus, was. But he kept himself always at a safe distance. And this is where his great perplexity was coming from. Luke uses a word that is not a plain perplexity. It is not just any kind of perplexity but it says “greatly perplexed.” The meaning of the original Greek diaporeō means that Herod is at a loss on how to proceed, he is at one’s wit’s end. This is bound to happen when one is hands-off. He heard how people were saying, “John has been raised from the dead”; others were saying, “Elijah has appeared”; still others, “One of the ancient prophets has arisen.” Who would not be perplexed? It is like listening to all kinds of reports today not minding if it is real news or fake news and believing everything found on the internet. You will experience Herod’s great perplexity, like somebody going out of one’s mind. No wonder, the Gospel says that Herod kept trying to see Jesus—to see him with his own eyes and hear him speak with his own ears, which is a natural thing to do. But he remained hands-off, ruling his kingdom at a safe distance in his ivory tower. The same thing happened to Hitler while his own ruthless Nazi generals were deftly doing the dirty work of exterminating the Jews in his name.

What happens during the moment when Herod, after waiting for a long time, will now meet with Jesus? St Luke has set the stage for this climax so to speak. Will there be a change of heart on the part of Herod? Will he stop being hands-off? What would he ask Jesus to do? As expected, Herod continued to stay imprisoned in his own world. Still hands-off, he cannot listen to another human person, let alone a holy man like Jesus. He was stuck in his own views. He wanted a magician or a miracle worker out of our Lord. He was after personal entertainment. And Jesus just remained quiet—which was Jesus’s compassionate response to superficial persons like Herod. Herod could have slapped Jesus in the face or some other inhuman and deleterious act that could have implicated one's own self more. When he could not stand Jesus’s silence any longer, he sent him away to give others the free rein to deal with him as they wished.

Jesus did not receive any clear verdict or judgment from the Sanhedrin, or from Pontius Pilate, or from Herod Antipas. What is very clear is the buck-passing. Each of them passed on the dirty work of condemning an innocent man to someone else. The buck stopped with Pilate to be the one to judge and condemn Jesus on the charge of making false claims of being a king. Unwilling to unjustly condemn an innocent man Pilate speaks before everyone:
“You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime [that deserves death] has been committed by him” (Lk 23:14-15).
After further conversations between Pilate and the Court elders, Jesus is hurriedly sent to be crucified on Calvary and we do not know why.

The third point of our reflection is a question I would like to pose. "On whose hands then could we attribute the death of Jesus?" This is quite a tough question to answer when everyone was hands-off. Whenever society will keep quiet and do nothing there is someone or a group of people who will be sacrificed, exterminated, silenced. They are the scapegoats, and in the face of a scapegoat, everyone is implicated and guilty. This is what killed Jesus—the 'blame game', the 'buck passing' and in each blame game there is a scapegoat. St Paul's letter to the Philippians has summarized this tragedy by saying, "he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). The death of more than six million of our Jewish sisters and brothers came as a result of the buck-passing. An example was the refusal of then Allied Powers—Britain, United States, France, and the Soviet Union—to confront Nazi Germany effectively in the 1930s. The Nazi regime was fast growing as a threat, but despite it, the other states turned a blind eye thinking that another state would take up the cudgels.

It is not simply that Jesus died or even that he was exterminated by cowardly and corrupt people; it was that he endured the death reserved only for the lowest and most despised—the lot of the defenseless and immolated scapegoat (Lev 16:1-34). No wonder Jesus is near to the least, the last and the lost of society and vice versa. Not only is Jesus near to them, but he also made himself like one of them. Jesus’s crucifixion was the most awful, tragic, and shameful thing that any man has done to a fellow man, let alone an innocent man.

Today, there are countless scapegoats in our country, community and in each family. How should we position ourselves now? Should we just go on and remain hands off all the time? Fr JM Manzano SJ


  1. Thanks po Fr. Jomari for such a beautiful homily, not just merely spiritual but also historical and informative... Indeed, I was moved to reflect further about different situations not just in the past but also at present...

    The theme "hands-off" is so timely... As we, at present, are experiencing this pandemic, and if I may use it literally, everyone seems to get used to this word, hands-off... Yet, it has somehow the same effect like before - protecting myself and my own interest... And worse, because it seems like people developed some certain fear of being together and loneliness is far much greater than before...

    1. Thanks for your sharing and for resonating with the hands-off trend brought about by the pandemic. "History repeats itself" says George Eliot and in many ways than one. Yes it is tough times and we rely on God who is always hands-on in His love for us. GBU!

    2. Thanks for these words...
      Yet, may we not be carried away by this "trend" but go against the current and make a difference...
      I would like to share with you this link... Hope you like it... :')


      God bless you always..

    3. Wow! Jaw dropping indeed. Thank you for sharing this unbelievable drive of God's creation. This is a testament to their Creator's infinite intelligence mirrored in the life cycle of the Pacific Salmon! GBU!

    4. Ang ganda po, 'no? Salamat at nagustuhan niyo po... Actually, our life is also mirrored in their life cycle... We do come back to to where we come from... To our destiny... Yet with much struggles and victories as we tread along the current of life... Take care...

    5. You know what I just had dinner and guess what we have, Salmon! It is just once in blue moon though to have this in my community but I ate my meal with so much gusto contemplating how these creatures have fought so hard to survive! GBU!

    6. I am looking at the moon... It is not blue... But I can't help but smile and remember salmon... Good night po uli... :')


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