The Victim Beside the Road
By: Catherine Clark Kroeger
Catherine Clark Kroeger
Catherine Clark Kroeger
A traveler was trudging along the way between Jerusalem and Jericho. The road in that direction is an easy one, all downhill; for Jerusalem is on high ground and the land around the Dead Sea lies 1390 feet below sea level. So it was that our traveler was led to expect a swift and fortuitous journey; but suddenly the totally unexpected happened. He was set upon by a group of robbers who seized his belongings, stripped him naked and beat him so severely that he lay half dead by the side of the road. He lies there alone, his friends and family totally ignorant that he is in trouble of any sort.
Of course the analogy is soon made to the condition of victims of domestic abuse. Although sometimes there are warning signals that went unheeded, often trusting unfortunates set out blithely on the matrimonial journey with absolutely no inkling that the specter of abuse could lurk along the road. I once heard Sarah Buell, a nationally acknowledged expert on abuse, say that it is very difficult even for skilled professionals to recognize a potential abuser in advance.
Just like the traveler caught unawares, the victim – usually a woman – finds herself in dire straits with no one immediately available to help. Even if she is able to raise her voice, there is no guarantee that anyone will respond. So many victims lie alone beside the road, often deliberately isolated by their abuser from friends and family.
In our story, the victim has sustained a life-threatening experience. He has been deprived of his assets, abused, beaten, inflicted with serious bodily injury, stripped of dignity and basic human rights and shunned by the religious establishment, It is he who is designated by Jesus as the exemplar of the neighbor whom one is to love as oneself.
Two highly qualified leaders of the religious establishment pass by unconcerned, unwilling to get involved in what is clearly a most unfortunate situation. Did the priest and Levite fear defilement as they traveled upwards on the road to minister in the temple at Jerusalem? Why soil their hands of their garments? Surely their ritual purity was more essential than the complicated nuisance that lay beside the road. Did they perhaps curse the crumpled form that was cluttering up their path? And so they leave him to die as trash along the road.
Indubitably the reverend gentlemen were well aware of the biblical dictate that “those who despise the poor are an insult to their maker and those who help the poor honor him”(Prov 14:31). Nor were they ignorant of the prophecy of Obadiah, the shortest tractate in the Old Testament (also the least read). It has a very simple message: the importance of standing up for those in need. The Edomites are condemned for their failure to come to the aid of Israel.
Because of the violence you did to your close relatives in Israel, you will be filled with shame and destroyed forever. When they were invaded, you stood aloof, refusing to help them. Foreign invaders carried off their wealth and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem, but you acted liked one of Israel’s enemies. You should not have gloated when they exiled your relatives to distant lands . . You should not have spoken arrogantly in that terrible time of trouble (vs. 10-12).
Disregarding admonitions of this sort and hewing to their own neatly designed theological rationalization, the priest and Levite simply ignore the victim – or perhaps even blame him. He is a matter of indifference to them, and they proceed on about their own business. But have we too, like Obadiah’s Edomites, been guilty of standing aloof or of speaking arrogantly and unfeelingly when those of our own church family are in a time of terrible trouble?
Was the man beside the road conscious enough to realize that his own faith community had rejected him, that the religious authorities felt no incumbency to give him any sort of assistance or compassion?
Did he feel, as so many other victims do, that there was now no longer room for him in the family of God, that somehow his own sin had placed him in this crisis? How often victims feel distanced from the Lord’s presence and favor, snubbed by church leadership, scolded, humiliated and abandoned! One member of a world-famous fundamentalist church wailed “Our church sends tons and tons of food overseas but won’t even give a basket of groceries to a devoted church member when she is fleeing abuse.” Other victims tell of being removed from the choir or praise team, of being asked to defer their request for church membership, of being asked what they have done to deserve the abuse. Yes, it is the rejection by other Christians that hurts the worst of all.