The Day of Atonement was a holy day set aside for fasting, prayer confession of sin and sacrifice for sin. Two goats were required for the Day of Atonement – and a whole bunch of other stuff but I’m all about the goats right now. One goat was killed as a sin offering for the people of Israel. The other goat was designated as a scapegoat. The high priest would lay his hands on this second goat and confess all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites. Then this goat would be released into the desert, signifying the total removal of sins. Feel free to fact check this in Leviticus 16.
Here is the part that has me thinking. A guy had to go with the goat. Like he had to make sure it actually went away. His job was to take the goat out to the desert and shoo it away, presumably to die in the desert.
This is quite the job. I wonder if the goat guy ever had second thoughts about his job. I wonder if he was ever tempted to not complete his duties. After all, goats are cute in their own way. I wonder if the goat guy ever thought about letting the goat live – maybe even bringing it home. I wonder if he ever thought, “Nobody will know. Look at the little fellow. What’s the harm? Everyone thinks the goat is gone and there is no reason to actually let him go. He can hang around with me for a bit. It’s actually the right thing to do. The goat shouldn’t suffer.”
Full disclosure: I know for a fact that there are four people in my house who like goats and would have these types of thoughts.
My brain went in all kinds of different directions thinking about goat guy and the repercussions for not releasing the goat. But I got stuck on one thought, “We can all be failed goat guys.”
Here is what I mean. We hang onto stuff we are supposed to let go of like sin, compromise, etc. And we don’t let go of stuff we are supposed to surrender. We hang onto these “goats” and tell ourselves that it won’t matter, it isn’t hurting anyone or it’s too cute or fun or important or whatever to let go of. We tell ourselves that nobody will know if we hang on. We talk ourselves into being failed goat guys all the time.
And I do know the consequences of us not letting our “goats” go. I have watched people shipwreck their lives with sin and compromise they had told themselves was no big deal. I have watched people live restless lives, void of peace as they failed to fully surrender to God. I have watched people miss out on God’s best because they couldn’t let go of something far less than what He had in mind for them. And you have seen all of it too. And yet somehow we keep telling ourselves it is different for us and the “goat” we are supposed to release.
Part of being a healthy church should involve helping each other be good goat guys. It requires deep relationship and high trust in each other but these are the types of relationships we should be building with each other. And in the context of these relationships we need to help each other “release our goats into the desert”. We need to help each other leave sin behind. We need help each other live fully surrendered lives. We need to spur each other on. We need to help each other let go of our “goats” and embrace what God has for us.
It would be quite a benediction to adopt. “Let us walk our goats out to the desert and release them. And let us help each other be good at this job. Let us be a community of good goat guys.” Amen.
Director of Church Health, FMCIC