Dt 30:10-14, Col 1:15-20, Lk 10:25-37
Prepared by Terry Beeson
Some people who have traveled with me on road trips may know I have a weird rule about traveling. I call it the "Two Feet on the Ground" rule. The rule is that I cannot officially claim I have been to a place, mainly a particular state in the United States, unless my feet touch the ground.
For example, during a road trip to Alabama on Spring break, my friends and I drove for a brief period through Arkansas. I had never been to Arkansas. So, I insisted that we stop to get gas, or have lunch, or use the rest area, anything for me to have my feet touch the ground, to check off Arkansas as a place I have been.
Conversely, when I was taking the train from Trenton, New Jersey to Bridgeport, Connecticut, the train stopped in Grand Central Station in New York. I had never been to New York. But I never got off the train until I reached Bridgeport. I could not officially say that I was in New York. My feet never touched the ground. I did not breath the New York air. I did not expose my self to the culture of New York, however brief, so I did not get a flavor of what New York was like. I did not experience New York.
I have seen New York on television, and I have gotten a glimpse of New York through the window of the train. So, I do have some idea of what New York would be like. But if I stepped off the train for a while, a whole new dimension of my experience of New York would be added.
I think my "Two Feet on the Ground" rule can be applied to different aspects of life, like dealing with the issue of domestic violence. For many of us, when it comes to domestic violence, we are on the train looking out the window.
We know that domestic violence is out there. We know that the Church is vehemently opposed to such behavior. We know that there are many women, men, and children who are victims of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse perpetrated by members of their own family. We know this because we see stories about the worst cases of domestic violence on the evening news or read about it in the newspaper. If any of you have seen a few episodes of the Fox series "COPS", you will eventually see an arrest of a perpetrator of domestic violence. Watching these stories unfold in the comfort of our own living room, we wonder why these victims continue to stay in such an awful relationship.
So, we know something about domestic violence, but still we remain on the train. For many of us I think, our feet have yet to touch the ground, to encounter it face to face, and to deal with it head on. But after all, why should we get off the train? This is New Brighton. That sort thing happens only in the seedy parts of the Twin Cities. Or does it?
The research, on cases of domestic violence of some form, shows that no community is immune. It happens everywhere. It happens in the inner city. It happens in the rural areas. It happens in the suburbs. And yes, it even happens in heavenly New Brighton.
Victims and perpetrators alike are our neighbors living in our neighborhood. They shop at our favorite stores. They eat at our favorite restaurants. And they may even be right here in church today, worshipping God and looking for answers. A victim or perpetrator of domestic violence may be sitting in the same pew, and none of us would know the difference.
In the Gospel today, Jesus tells the parable of the "Good Samaritan." I would like to rename that story "The Levite and the Priest who would not get off the train." In defense of the Levite and the priest, they were trying to follow the Law to the letter. If a Levite or a priest were to touch a corpse, he would be considered ritually unclean, which means he could not offer sacrifice to God. Because of who they were, they had to stay on the train. They did not know any other way. But Jesus points out that their way is flawed.
I think that sometimes we do not know any other way. The perpetrator of domestic violence more than likely learned this behavior as a victim during childhood, so he does not know any other way. The victim of domestic violence more than likely feels that there no place to turn except to pray that it stops some how. So, the victim does not know any other way. All of us on the train will continue to look out the window, because we do not know any other way. But our ways are flawed.
Yes, we are on the train that will make a brief stop at a station called domestic violence. When we look out the window, will we recognize this station when we see a person with bruises that are hard to explain? Will we recognize this station when we hear someone say how the spouse and children are kept in line? Will we recognize this station when we see children cowering in the face of authority? Are we willing to get off the train and breath the air of domestic violence? And will we be like the Good Samaritan and treat both the victim and the perpetrator with compassion?
In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses points out to the people that God's command is already on their mouths and in their hearts. All they have to do is carry it out. As church, Jesus' law of compassion is already on our mouths and in our hearts. All we have to do is carry it out. But what does this compassion look like? Sometimes just being there for the victim is good enough. Sometimes, in a creative way, challenging the perpetrator to reform is good enough. There is no easy answer.
Let us pray for both the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, that they find their way out of the vicious cycle of abuse. Let us pray that we as church have our feet planted solidly on the ground, willing to engage the issue of domestic violence with compassion.