Scapegoating

Greetings! I am Pastor David Hewitt of King of Glory Lutheran Church in Carmel, Indiana, and I welcome you to our latest “Boost from the Bible,” where we delve into the depths of scripture, always finding God’s wisdom and love in this COVID time. Let us begin!

Do you know the story in the book of Genesis of “Cain and Abel”? They were the first two children of Adam and Eve; both were boys who grew up to be men. The first murder in the bible took place when Cain murdered his younger brother Abel. It happened this way, and I quote, from Genesis, chapter four:

“Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering [God] had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground!”

You know when I was younger I just could not understand what God had against Cain’s sacrifice; I couldn’t understand why God considered Abel’s sacrifice to be better than Cain’s. Was it, I wondered, because God wanted the meat that Abel could give Him, rather than the grain from Cain? I realized, no, that was not it. But then, reading the words in the Bible very carefully, I realized that the key thing that Abel did when he put together his sacrifice to God (that Cain did not do) was that Abel gave of the “first fruits” that came from his sheep, and the best portions – the fat portions – from what the text called Abel’s “firstlings.”God wants us to pay thanks to Him right away, and give of our very best back to God, in service to Him. And Cain did not do that; he only gave some other portion of his grain. Later, when the Old Testament Law was written for those returning from Egypt to Israel, the kinds of sacrifices the Hebrew people were commanded to give to God – in both meat and grain – were to be the “first fruits” of both herd and field. Why? Because these gifts were to symbolize the very best that the people were always called upon to GIVE to their God…to show God that they were remorseful for their sin and to show God that they were willing to give their all to their Creator and Redeemer.

Now you may have noticed, when I read the Cain/Abel passage, that after God preferred Abel’s offering over Cain’s, that Cain got angry right away, and God noticed and said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you [Cain], but you must master it.” Here we see God describe “sin” as kind of like a person or an animal that pounces on a person whenever they feel angry or slighted – and, boy, did Cain, the older brother, feel slighted, and jealous! I remember, growing up, that I was prone to lash out a few times at younger kids if I felt they had shown me, the older kid, up! And Cain felt like Abel had shown him up, and, in that fear that comes from embarrassment, Cain succumbed to temptation, lured Abel out into a distant field, and killed his brother!

God had told Cain that Cain “did not do well,” but God held out hope that Cain could do better in the future, and even “master” sin and its temptations. But, unfortunately, Cain, yielding TO sin, only focused on the past, ruminating on his loss and – here’s the thing – blaming it all on Abel, when Abel was only trying to show God how much he loved God. You know sometimes we take all the feelings of guilt and shame inside of us and put all that on somebody else – making that person the scapegoat! And Cain made Abel his scapegoat.

You know I ran across a story similar to Cain and Abel just the other day. I found the story in the middle of a description of a documentary to be show soon – a documentary about The Comedy Club’s 40-some year history in Hollywood. Standup comics would come from miles around to L.A., to the Comedy Club – the mecca of standup – in order to try to make it big there, and then get on TV and then to the movies and make a fortune and be famous.

Well, in the midst of this report on the new documentary a story was told from the mid-1970s: You see, back then a young man named Freddie Prinze was a rising young Latino-American comic who was starring in the hit TV comedy “Chico and the Man” on NBC. Freddie had done stand-up on the Tonight Show and was popular with young people. Another comic and TV star, Jimmie Walker of “Good Times,” palled around with Prinze. Well, in the documentary Walker says of that time period that Prinze one day became very angry when he was pushed off the covers of various Teen Girl magazines by a NEW “cute guy,” John Travolta, who was starring in the new TV comedy “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Walker says that Freddie Prinze was so enraged at Travolta that he bought a crossbow and arrows and planned to kill Travolta. Walker now says that he and Prinze went to Travolta’s building back then. Travolta wasn’t home, but Prinze shot three arrows into Travolta’s door. Walker says, “[Freddie Prinze] would be the nicest guy in the world, but there was a tremendous amount of times he would just come in [to the Comedy Club] and freak out!”

You see, Cain and Freddie Prinze had something in common. Just as Cain shifted his blame from God – whom he couldn’t touch – to Abel, whom he not only touched but killed…in a similar way Freddie Prinze shifted HIS blame from the teen magazines and the teens that bought them – people he couldn’t get to – to John Travolta, only because Travolta was just one persona and he could find him and kill him.

Scapegoating is a sin that leads to blame and violence against those who are the most vulnerable to being victimized – and it’s usually a shift away from those who might be to blame but are unreachable. Of course, the biggest reason for scapegoating goes deeper than that – we use scapegoating to shy away from blaming ourselves! Cain, not God nor Abel, was to blame for giving to God a slipshod sacrifice.  Freddie Prinze, not the magazine writers nor Travolta, was to blame for putting too much emphasis on appearing on teen magazine covers!

We, too, tend to scapegoat others and/or make excuses for ourselves when we do wrong. In these highly stressful COVID times, it’s easy for us to take the stress we are feeling out onthose who live with us or near us, as we get cabin fever here even in the summer and fall; in the old days workers would get mad at the boss in the office, but stay quiet about it until they came home and kicked the dog or even took it out on the spouse or the kids. We should, instead, take responsibility for a lot of our own stress (not all of it by any means, but some of it) and cop to our own guilt and come to God for forgiveness, mercy and peace.

When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and she got pregnant and David sought to cover it up by sending Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to die in battle so that people would say the babe in Bathsheba’s womb was Uriah’s and not David’s – and then Uriah DID die – God sent the prophet Nathan to declare to David that David had sinned greatly, and that the child in Bathsheba’s womb would die, which it did. Then King David, confessing his sin to God, wrote the 51st Psalm, a portion of which is our BOOST FROM THE BIBLE today. In this Psalm we read how David took full responsibility for his own sin, and, unlike Cain, did not scapegoat and blame anyone else. David pleaded, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence and blameless when You pass judgment.”

It is said that repentance is about walking through two decisions. One decision is to no longer walk in the sinful direction you are presently walking in; so here in Psalm 51 David takes the blame and says that God is justified in His sentence that the prophet Nathan pronounced against David. And, then, as we read in our BOOST for the day still from Psalm 51, David pledges to God that he will walk a NEW direction, in the good and right direction, with God’s help: “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” David pleads, “And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

For us, during this difficult, very difficult time in our nation, we need our Lord’s strength and comfort NOW more than ever. Instead of piling our fears and worries onto other people’s shoulders, let US be the ones who cheer others up, let US be the ones who take what comes by utilizing the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding; let US be the people who, as David put it in Psalm 51, are those who have renewed their spirit within them and are steadfast because they have been given the joy of salvation – upheld by God’s generous Spirit of love.

We only have one life to lead. May we step forth, quickly taking responsibility for our actions, not blaming or scapegoating others, all the while keeping our eye on the object of God’s love – which is EVERY person we meet…every person we come across, every person we deal with…and every person it is our destiny to minister to. Amen!

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