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Should We Embrace Suffering?

Images of bullying

In recent years our televisions have inflicted some disturbing images on us – graphic footage of girls and boys lying on the ground being kicked and punched, victims of teenage bullying. The Bible sometimes speaks of Jesus as a victim, “bearing our burdens”. This can arouse ominous echoes in those who have been victims of family violence or bullying.

 

Jesus as a scapegoat

We learn to love from our family. We’re introduced to love as babies – we’re held, cuddled, patted and soothed when pain troubles our small bodies. Sadly, love is rationed out in many families; because of parental fatigue or sibling jealousy there is rarely enough to go around.

A brilliant Catholic anthropologist, Rene Girard, was stunned to discover that common to every culture he studied was the idea of using sacrifice to placate the gods. This practice demanded scapegoats, and the scapegoats were often the misfits, the family oddballs.

Nearly every family and group, often unconsciously, elects someone to blame for their lack of unity. Heaping hurt on their victim recreates their failing bonds, or so they feel. This is how scapegoats are born.

Jesus knew this well. As his own time drew near he saw that he would be the victim of the need to protect priestly power. By refusing to retaliate, and teaching his followers to do the same, he broke the cycle of violence and counter-violence. By rising from the dead he freed his followers from the need to seek revenge.

Catholics believe that they should embrace times of suffering such as the season of Lent, seeing it as a time for curbing their indulgences – often in food or alcohol. But perhaps it would be more constructive for all of us to see now as the time to renounce scapegoating, to stop finding others to blame for our lack of loving.

We should use the time to embrace the battered and bruised Jesus, not in passive acceptance of suffering.

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