One late Friday afternoon when the office was nearly empty, two clean-cut young men showed up at the Mennonite Church Canada reception desk to inquire about pension benefits for their widowed mother. Assuming they were sons of a pastor, the receptionist sent them my way. As chief administrative officer, helping such people out is part of my job.
I invited them into my office. They sat down, positioning their chairs to block the exit. That triggered my internal alarm, and the situation went downhill from there. It quickly became apparent that their father hadn’t been a pastor, and they had no association with MC Canada. Several other Mennonite organizations had also turned down their requests for assistance. When I explained that I couldn’t help them either, their behaviour fouled. Threats were made. I was terrified.
Serving others comes with its fair share of challenges. Whether you’re a waitress in a coffee shop or an executive for a large organization—like the church—you can become a target for everything that is wrong. But it’s more than that. It’s the looming sense of responsibility, of being the person “where the buck stops,” whether for a complaint about cold coffee or a floundering corporate merger.
Sometimes, it means being a scapegoat and accepting it. Jesus knew this all too well. When he consented to God’s will—to sacrifice his life even though he’d done no wrong—he became the ultimate scapegoat for all of humanity. As the ultimate servant-leader, Jesus fell under the constant scrutiny of government and the religious elite. Cursed and blessed in his role as Messiah, he lived in a time when both the best and worst of human behaviours rose to the surface in the public sphere.
So, back to my office. I offered my two intimidating visitors a promise to send them information about where they might find assistance. I reminded myself that God was still in control. That gave me the courage to stand firm in the face of their continued bullying and ask them strongly to leave. Eventually, furious and still uttering threats, they did.
Those visitors made me realize something important: I was their scapegoat. The buck stopped with me, and that made me the target of their frustration over an ongoing, unfruitful search for help.
When people are angry, it’s easy to cast frustration in any direction. It might be toward the new grocery cashier assisting a long line-up, or it might be the church leader who cannot give the desired assurances. Simmering anger boils over, as if long line-ups or conflict can be sponta-neously resolved, or solutions found with the sweep of a magic wand.
Most of us have likely been served up as a scapegoat at some point, whether in the role of a servant, a leader or a servant-leader. It’s not fun, but it goes with the territory. I pray that Jesus’ example will give each of us the strength to accept the challenge with grace.