Psalm 119:65-72; Leviticus 16:1-5, 20-28; Matthew 21:18-22. Gospel from Sunday – Matthew 18:15-20.
All these texts come to us “under” Matthew 18:15-20. That was the Gospel from Sunday, and remains the controlling text. Remember that text is about reconciliation, love, and forgiveness. If someone sins against you, tell them, and create an opportunity for reconciliation. If that doesn’t work, involve more people. Involve the Church. Preach, Teach, Heal. Do what Jesus does for tax collectors and gentiles: keep creating opportunities for reconciliation. God is present in reconciliation. Whatever you reconcile on Earth God reconciles in Heaven.
So, I read Leviticus 16 somewhat broken-hearted. On the one hand, it is a beautiful embodiment of removing Sin. The scapegoat carries it away…and, I don’t know, goes out into the wild and lives with all the other scapegoats? The point is, it’s gone, and so is the Sin!
On the other hand, this does not work. I would love to pin my problems on one person, or one group of people. We do that. It’s immigrants, it’s protestors, it’s counter-protestors, it’s the former President, it’s the current President. If we just get rid of “them.” If we just get rid of “them,” guess what? The problem is still there. You might get rid of certain individuals and their specific issues, but the problems that brought us to today remain, and nine times out of ten somebody just takes the place of the departed.
Christians read Scripture figuratively. We readily spot the similarities between a scapegoat who removes Sin from the city, and Christ who is led out of the city to die for Sin. Our Christian theology is big and I will be the first to say that “substitutionary atonement” is not all that there is. But, as theologian (and retired VU theology professor, and longtime Trinity Valpo choir member) George Heider once pointed out much to my chagrin, it is Matthew’s theology. In Matthew, Jesus is like the scapegoat.
But only like. After all, this is the guy who told us on Sunday to confront Sin for the purpose of reconciliation. The scapegoat confronts nothing. Jesus carries out atonement–carries away Sin–by confronting it. He confronts the demons and spirits. He confronts prejudices (including his own). He confronts his leaders. He confronts his conquerors. When he winds up outside the city with all the other scapegoats, what’s he do? He opens their graves! (Remember, Matthew’s account of the Passion has this odd scene when Jesus dies: “The tombs were opened, bodies raised, they went into the city and appeared to many.”) And then, when Jesus dies, he opens his own grave. He rises from death into life. In Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Jesus confronts Sin and reconciles the world to himself.
Where there is resurrection, there is reconciliation. And there is always resurrection. Where there is war, famine, disaster, and economic despair forcing people to migrate, wherever there is employment threatened, there is nonetheless resurrection and there can be reconciliation.
Where people are reliably mistreated because of the color of their skin, there is nonetheless resurrection, and there can be reconciliation.
Where people fear the loss of “normal,” there is nonetheless resurrection, and there can be reconciliation.
Where our nation and its leaders have caused hurt in the past, there is nonetheless resurrection, and there can be reconciliation.
Where our nation and its leaders cause hurt today there is nonetheless resurrection, and there can be reconciliation.
In Valparaiso, with its history and present of racial bias, of bias motivated incidents, of bias motivated policies, there is nonetheless resurrection, and there can be reconciliation.
Because in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Jesus confronts Sin and reconciles the world–all of us–to himself.