BECAUSE WE TEND to want what others have, resentment is liable to be present in any human community and family. This creates tension, jealousy and conflict. Anthropologists tell us that we try to rid ourselves of tension by scapegoating.
For example, imagine going out for lunch with a number of your colleagues. There will usually be some personality conflicts and tensions among us. But we can have an amicable lunch together simply by talking about certain people who aren’t there, whom we all dislike, whom we all consider eccentric or difficult..
So we talk about them. How terrible the boss is, how difficult some colleague is. In highlighting how different or negative to us someone else is, we make our own tensions with each other disappear for the moment. That’s the essence of scapegoating. We create community with each other by projecting our tension onto someone else. But our momentary unity is based upon what we are against rather than upon what we are for.
All groups, until they reach a certain level of maturity, do this. And we do the same to cope with tension in our private lives. We get up some morning and feel out of sorts, weighed down by a mixture of frustration, anxiety, and anger. So what do we do? We find someone to blame.
Invariably we will soon pick someone (in our family, at our place of work, or a politician, or a religious figure) on whom to place that tension. Someone whom we consider difficult, or ignorant, or wrong, or corrupt, will soon bear the weight of our tension and resentment.
Moreover, not only will we project our tension onto someone, we will invariably
‘sacralize’ the indignation we feel, that is,
we will project our tension and anger onto that other not just because he or she is different from ourselves or because we consider him or her difficult, ignorant, or lazy, but especially because we feel ourselves as morally superior to him or her: we’re right and he’s is wrong; we’re good and she’s bad.
Thus our resentment towards that person is a holy resentment, necessary for the cause of God, and truth, and goodness. Such are all crucifixions, hangings, and excommunications.
That’s the usual way to rid ourselves of resentment in our communities and in ourselves. Jesus was crucified precisely because a community did this to him, and did it to him for holy reasons.
But the ultimate victim of scapegoating, Jesus, invites us to something higher, and he models that for us in the way he died. Jesus took away tension by transforming it rather than by transmitting it. What Jesus does for us is comparable to what a water-purifier does.
A water-purifier takes in water containing toxins. It holds the impurities in itself and gives back only pure water. Jesus took away our sins and purified us in his blood not by some divine magic but, precisely, by absorbing and transforming our sin.
Like a water-purifier, he took in hatred, held it, transformed it, and gave back love; he took in jealousy, held it, transformed it, and gave back affirmation; he took in resentment, held it, transformed it, and gave back compassion; and ultimately, he took in murder, held it, transformed it, and gave back forgiveness. That’s the Christian design for taking tension and resentment out of our lives. We shouldn’t just admire what Jesus did here: we should do it ourselves. 22/11/3 Peter Knott SJ
Adapted from the Rolheiser Column Archive 2013