Victimizing the Victim

Friday, September 7, 2012 –– Week of Proper 17

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 983)

Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

Job 19:1-7, 14-27

Acts 13:13-25

John 9:18-41

Victimizing the Victim

Job to Bildad: “…are you not ashamed to wrong me?”

The authorities to the man born blind: “‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.”

One of the major themes of the book of Job is that the world does not always work justly. Sometimes the innocent suffer. Cause and effect is not always upright. Often the wicked prosper and the righteous fail.

The book of Job declares that anyone who grounds their faith in a belief that life will reward the diligent, upright and honest, is simply failing to see reality. Anyone who persists in defending systems they believe to be just, will end up victimizing those who suffer unjustly, victimizing the victim. Usually the defense of the broken system will become abusive, adding a layer of oppression to the misery.

Job is innocent, yet he suffers terribly. Bildad and the others insist that God rewards the good and punishes the sinner, therefore Job must be a sinner. These friends of Job are just defending God. More precisely, they are defending their orthodoxies about God. Job accuses God. Job declares that it is God who is hunting and punishing him unjustly. Job says, “I want to face God with this truth.” The innocent suffer, and God’s people only blame them for their suffering. That’s wrong, says Job.

In our reading today from the gospel of John, Jesus heals a man born blind. But Jesus does so on the Sabbath, in violation of religious practice and teaching, in violation of scripture. The authorities cross-examine the healed man. The blind man sees. He understands. He tells them, only God’s power could heal a man born blind. This man Jesus must be from God, the blind man says. But the conventional belief is that God punishes sin, and anyone born blind must himself be a punishment for sin. The authorities dismiss the blind man and his insight roughly, “You were born entirely in sins…” They throw him out of the community.

A single mom works two jobs that pay by the hour. She’s not home much, because she’s got to work so long to cover rent, food, child care and the transportation she needs to get to work. There is precious little time or money for incidentals. There is no margin for misfortune. There is no insurance for illness.

She gets sick. She ignores the symptoms as long as she can. She tries to gut it out, but can’t. Her only option is the emergency room. Every private clinic in town will refuse her appointment. They have no more places for uninsured patients. Only the emergency room must take her.

When I go to the emergency room, my insurers have negotiated a discount rate with the providers. I have a modest co-pay; the hospital gets the agreed low rate from my insurance company. When the uninsured woman goes in, she is billed at the top rate. When she can’t pay it, her credit rating is ruined. If she tries to pay it, her meager economic life constricts more tightly.

If she’s sick too long, her employer will fire her. She should have come in earlier when the doctors could have done something before she got so ill. What will she do about the children? Too bad. That’s just the way it is, everyone tells her. That’s the system. Anything else would be socialism. And you’d better not try to get a quick buck by selling drugs, or yourself.

Often — hard working, honest people living in the richest country in the world simply can’t make ends meet. But America is the best nation in the world, we tell her. It must be your fault.

Too often we try to defend the systems we believe in and the teachings we’ve been taught, even when their failings and shortcomings are right in front of our eyes. Instead of practicing empathy, we rationalize. When our empathy fails, we will victimize the victims. And we will do so in the name of that which we most treasure — our nation and our religion.

Unless we let empathy, love, compassion and understanding reshape our reality, we are part of the problem.

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