Tuesday in the Fifth Week of Easter at Mississippi Abbey

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”  What’s the difference: Jesus’ vs. the world’s way of giving peace?

Biblical anthropologist Rene Girard found that communities promote peace when tensions from rivalry are high. They invent a bad guy and all hostility is vented on him or her. It is called “scapegoating.” A victim was invented and either executed or driven out. This is what happened to Jesus. A mob participates and afterwards all is at peace again. Girard says scapegoating is “the sin of the world.” It lets us believe the problem is someone else. Jesus exposed it. Civil and religious groups use this mechanism, but to be effective they must not be conscious of it. They sincerely believe the bad guy is bad.

Today, execution is less likely. Public shaming and exclusion or marginalization is more common. Today a psychiatric diagnosis is often used and everything the victim does, thinks, feels, or says is labeled a symptom. The victim is no longer considered a “person.” She is “one of them”…and “they’re all alike.” Everyone else is normal; they’re a person. They are not “them”; they’re “us”. The community shames her as Jesus was shamed, but she does not feel ashamed because she, like Jesus, knows what matters most. Thus, groundless shaming makes the community irrelevant. Shame, Thomas Aquinas says, is a fear of disgrace. One’s reputation is damaged and likewise her capacity to be useful to others, i.e. to exercise the love commandments. It is very painful because most people want to be good persons and to belong.

Thomas, though, calls shame “a praiseworthy passion” (not a virtue…a passion; It is a spontaneous physical reaction, not a choice.) He is referring to one’s interior sensitivity to shame when one realizes she has violated a legitimate value that she shares with others. It is praiseworthy because it can help one anticipate a situation and make a good choice. It can also inform one in hindsight and lead to repentance. In short, shame about the right thing indicates a good will and concern for honor.

Aquinas notes that shame is more intense when it is done by community leaders. The pain is intensified when the accusation is made before those who live with the victim. Jesus suffered all this in addition to physical torture. This is the peace that the world gives…and it gives it for itself.

Yet before Pilate and those who mocked Him, Jesus showed a remarkable interior peace. This is the “my peace” that He promises. Where does He get it? He says, “I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.” ‘I tell you this so that you may believe and so that the ruler of the world, who has no power over me, will know that I love the Father and do as He commands.” He gets it from devotion to One Thing. 

What is this power? It is complete confidence in the goodness of God. It comes from experience of that goodness in oneself.  This is the peace that Jesus gives. And how does He give it that is different from scapegoating? He sends His Holy Spirit. That Spirit teaches us empathy for the victim, the kind Jesus showed to the Good Thief.

Scapegoating is resistance to the demands of love. The peace of Christ is given for the sake of others. Seeking the good of others for the others own sake is called Love.