Reflections on the Lectionary, John 1:29-34
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Reflections on the Lectionary, John 1:29-34
(January 16, 2011)

This passage begins with John the Baptist declaring, upon seeing Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” There has been much reflection among Christian theologians as to what is the “sin of the world.” I suggest that the “sin of the world” is the universal sin that has its origin in human nature. The human desire for self-esteem inclines us transfer guilt from ourselves onto other individuals (human and nonhuman). Those deemed “guilty” are typically punished and abused. This transfer of guilt is the essence of scapegoating, and scapegoating is a fundamental sin (arguably “the sin of the world”) because it undermines justice, is the basis of victimization, and is incompatible with a peaceful, harmonious world. There cannot be God’s realm “on earth and in heaven” as long as there is scapegoating.
How can we eliminate scapegoating? Accusing people of scapegoating doesn’t work. Communities involved in scapegoating don’t recognize their scapegoating activities. If they did, then scapegoating would not raise self-esteem. People generally respond to exposure of their scapegoating with defensiveness, derision, and, often, violence. Therefore, the “lamb of God” cannot refute accusers if the “lamb” is to take away the sin of the world. Indeed, Jesus did not reply to Pilate’s accusations, because anything he said in his defense would have been regarded as deceitful and grounds for punishment. By remaining silent, Jesus removed a possible excuse for executing him, making his innocence more obvious.
Scapegoating can’t be defeated by force, however justified the use of force might seem to be. The reason is that the recipients of force will consider themselves victims and thirst for revenge. Scapegoating must be exposed for the scandal that it is, because it is grounded on lies. Jesus, by allowing himself to be a victim, exposed the “sin of the world,” and indeed Jesus’ innocence was acknowledged by Judas (Matthew 27:3-5), Pilate (Luke 23:4), the prisoner (Luke 23:40-43), and the centurion (Luke 23:47). Those present at his crucifixion went home beating their breasts (Luke 23:48), which would only have happened if they recognized that an innocent person had been killed, i.e., that he had been a victim of scapegoating. Finally, among other things, the Resurrection account validated that God considered Jesus innocent.

It is not enough to stop scapegoating humans. As long as society at large participates in scapegoating, everyone is at risk. The reason is that, frequently, blaming animals for our shortcomings isn’t enough – in order to regard themselves as “good,” people often find it necessary to accuse other people. Accusation lies at the root of scapegoating, but if we abstain from accusation, how can we hold people accountable for their actions? We’ll consider this next week. The following week, we’ll explore ways in which animals are victims of scapegoating.

Go on to: Can There Be Accountability Without Accusation?
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