It was an October evening in 2003. The Chicago Cubs were up 3-0 in the 8th inning, in front of 42,000 screaming fans at Wrigley Field, known as “The Friendly Confines.” They were six outs away from going to the World Series for the first time since 1908. The Cubs had endured the longest championship drought in major league history, known as the “Curse of the Billy Goat.”
And then things went horribly wrong.
At the top of the inning, the opposing batter hit a long fly ball that drifted foul into the left field stands. Steve Bartman, a lifelong Cubs fan, reached out to catch the souvenir of a lifetime. His was one of many hands that instinctively reached out. And by chance, his was the hand that prevented Cubs outfielder, Moises Alou, from catching the foul ball and almost certainly assuring them a trip to the World Series. At least, that’s the story the angry crowd and most of Chicago was telling itself that night.
After Bartman interfered with the ball, the Florida Marlins went on to score 8 runs that inning. They not only won the game, they advanced to the World Series. The meltdown was historic and the crowd was devastated. That’s when things turned ugly.
Stadium security was forced to intervene and escort Bartman from the stadium, fearing for his life.
In this week’s text, we hear these words from Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
One of the things that makes scapegoating so powerful is that we are blind to it — even while we are doing it. In fact, its power is in its hiddenness.
We blame scapegoats for the things within ourselves that we don’t want to deal with. Can you see why scapegoats are so valuable to us? We use them to avoid the hard truths we can’t bear to face.
But the scapegoating victim sees what we cannot — that we blame them to avoid confronting the brokenness in our own lives. We call this particular type of sight the “intelligence of the victim.” Jesus demonstrates this intelligence on the cross.
But his insight is paired with the heart of the Creator who is in no way caught up in the cycle of violence. That is why Jesus says, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus releases the Creator’s forgiveness. He is what James Alison calls the “Forgiving Victim.” And who but the victim has the right to forgive?
We are now inside the mystery of the cross.
By the light of being forgiven, we come to see what we are doing. The more we undergo forgiveness, the more we can tell ourselves the truth about the endless stream of scapegoats we produce.
In 2016, the Cubs finally won the World Series and broke the “curse.” They recognized Bartman with a Championship ring. He then issued a statement in which he said, “My hope is that we all can learn from my experience…and prevent harsh scapegoating….”
Father, forgive us. We don’t know what we are doing.