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Beaten, Battered, and Burned Before I Am Helped - An ON Scripture Feature

Luke 18:1-8, A reflection by Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder 

 The images of her burned face are clear. Just yesterday the pictures of her charred skin became news, or so it seems. Although Yvette Cade’s estranged husband walked into a T-Mobile store, doused her with gasoline, pursued her and set her ablaze in 2005, the visuals are not so distant. One’s mind cannot erase such horror so easily. Some things are just etched in memory forever.

What is most compelling is this heinous act of domestic violence could have been prevented. Three weeks prior, Cade had asked a judge to grant a restraining order against her now imprisoned ex-husband. Judge Richard Palumbo maintained that due to some clerical error, the request was dismissed. Whereas no one had to give an accounting for what happened to Cade, not even an “administrative faux pas” could cover up the third-degree burns on her arms, torso, and head. No one can hide the more than thirty surgeries she has endured the past eight years.

There was no help for Cade before October 10, 2005. There was no help for her as she was running and burning on that day. Did something have to happen in order for anyone to intervene? Does a woman or man still have to be beaten, bruised or battered for rescue personnel to assist today? In many states if a battered person goes to the hospital and identifies the abuser, the police will issue an arrest warrant. Yet, the damage has been done. A broken jaw, swollen eye, bruised rib, or wounded womb should not be the impetus for action. A woman on a respirator in ICU with a collapsed lung should not be the catalyst for heroes to come save the day. The report of a threat to proper officials should be clarion call enough. We mourn and are in anguish over the “domestic violence,” the internal harm, within the U.S. by U.S. citizens in places like Columbine, Fort Hood, Newtown, and the Navy Pier shootings. As our hearts cry out for Americans lost in these senseless, mass murders, so must we sound the trumpet for the yelling, pushing, hitting, fighting, raping and killing that occur in homes every day. Violence is violence.

Since Yvette Cade’s story became national news, an estimated 10 million women and men have suffered acts of violence, most at the hands of an intimate partner. Over 14,000 families have buried loved ones due to such acts. Some 21 million children have witnessed abuse in their homes. Every day three women die at the hands of a lover, boyfriend or spouse. I dare to ask: How many funerals, acts of violence could have been prevented because a girl, or a woman, dared to share her pain? Or because a boy, or a man, took the mic to tell his story? How much more harm could be stopped if someone is brave enough to break the silence?

In the Gospel of Luke, a widow boldly speaks her truth (18:1-8). She audaciously implores a judge to intervene on her behalf. This widow, who in most first century contexts had few rights because of her gender and no social covering absent a male caregiver, demands justice. With much effrontery and persistence, she insists that a judge settle a matter between her and an adversary. It is not clear whether her concern is of a civic or criminal nature. What is apparent is this widow is relentless in attempts for someone to hear and do something for her. She risks social shame and embarrassment in order that whatever is vexing her might be abated.

Luke notes that the judge is not the most pleasant human being. He has little regard for God or God’s creation. However, because the widow does not surrender, but sacrifices what self-worth she has, the judge is compelled into action. Luke posits that perchance the official himself feels physically threatened by the woman’s gall (v. 5). In the end, the woman prevails.

For some, the judge in this Lukan parable represents God who hears the constant pleas of humankind and subsequently answers. However, if this is the case, what does the reader do with Luke’s statement that the judge does not “fear God or respect any human being (v. 2)?” Others say that the widow represents God seeking and pursuing humankind. I like to think that God goes to great lengths to reconcile humanity with divinity.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, shades of purple warn us not to forget Domestic Violence Awareness. The story in the Gospel of Luke sheds light on what tenacity, in any form, can accomplish. The widow did not cease in her efforts. Someone had wronged her; and she wanted the situation to be made right. We must be equally diligent in our determination to obliterate domestic violence. We must not become comfortable with reporting abuse after the fact. Our judicial officials, police personnel, school counselors, religious institutions to name a few, must take even the slightest whisper of harm seriously. We must not succumb to the foolish reasoning that “snitching” will put more African American men in prison. If we keep talking, teaching, sharing, and behaving as good stewards of God’s creation, there is nothing or no one to prevent us from getting a handle on domestic violence---and not putting an abusive hand on each other.

Survivors of domestic violence cope in many ways. Some engage in substance abuse while others tend to “over-spiritualize” their experiences. My mother chose to commit suicide to deal with her pain. Today, Yvette Cade travels the country speaking about her life. She is on the mend physically, but she is still afraid. Nonetheless, through her fear, she lifts her voice. Not one more person should have be battered or bruised before someone dares to help. Before we dare to help.

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