Friends, in today’s Gospel, the scribes and Pharisees make Jesus a scapegoat: they “began to act with hostility toward him and to interrogate him about many things, for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say.”
René Girard, the great Franco-American philosopher and social commentator, is best known for his speculations on what he called the scapegoating mechanism. Sadly, Girard maintained, most human communities are predicated upon this dysfunctional and deeply destructive instinct. Roughly speaking, it unfolds as follows. When tensions arise in a group, people commence to cast about for a scapegoat, for someone or some group to blame. Deeply attractive, even addictive, the scapegoating move rapidly attracts a crowd, which in short order becomes a mob.
In their common hatred of the victim, the blamers feel an ersatz sense of togetherness. Filled with the excitement born of self-righteousness, the mob then endeavors to isolate and finally eliminate the scapegoat, convinced that this will restore order to their roiled society. The Gospels appreciated the Girardian dynamic long before Girard.