Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 11, 2002
Gossip just might be good for the group
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
"You're afraid to go to the bathroom because you know whom they will be talking about when you get up from the table!
That's the anthropological function of gossip. We overcome our tensions by scapegoating someone or thing. That's why it's easier to form community against something rather than around something and why it's easier to define ourselves more by what we are against than by what we are for.
Ancient cultures knew this and designed certain rituals precisely to take tension out of the community by scapegoating. For example, at the time of Jesus within the Jewish community a ritual existed that said at regular intervals the community would take a goat and symbolically invest it with the tensions and divisions of the community. They would clothe it with a purple drape and put a crown of thorns on its head as a sign of their sins. (Notice how Jesus is vested in exactly these symbols when Pilate shows him to the crowd: "Ecce homo. . . . Behold your scapegoat!") The goat was then chased off to die in the desert. It's leaving the community was understood as taking the sin and tension away and the community was seen to be washed clean by its blood (as we are "in the blood of the lamb").
Jesus is our scapegoat. He takes away our sin and division by taking them in, carrying them and transforming them so as not to give them back in kind. Jesus takes away the sin of the world in the same way as a water-filter purifies, by holding the impurities within itself and giving back only what's pure.
Jesus took away the sin of the world this way: He took in hatred and gave back love; he took in curses and gave back blessing; he took in bitterness and gave back graciousness; he took in jealousy and gave back understanding; and he took in murder and gave back forgiveness. By absorbing our sin and jealousies, he did for us what we try to do when we crucify others through gossip.
And that's his invitation to us: As adult women and men we are invited to step up and do what Jesus did, take in the differences and jealousies around us, hold them and transform them so as not to give them back in kind.
Only then won't we need scapegoats. And only then will the steam-pipes of gossip cease hissing and the low growl of that smallish dog inside us be silent.
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