Tears ran freely down the face of a young Afghani girl as her father carries her bloody body into the makeshift military hospital. The familiar smell of smoldering flesh and fabric alert the staff a burn victim has arrived. With skin boiling and her head scarf melting to her slim body, the staff readies for yet another young victim of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED); they often stumble upon them in innocent play.
For five weeks the military doctors and nurses tend to her devastating wounds. Her face is tragically scarred, her eyebrows are gone, her nose partially melted. Her face and neck are raw, red and blistered. The medical staff marveled at her tenacity to heal despite a grim prognosis. They look past the horror of her wounds into her youthful eyes. She is eventually released to her family’s care.
A few weeks pass and the medical staff hear news of their young patient. One of the locals confesses that cleaning and dressing her wounds was more than the poor family could afford to do. They lacked the supplies and the skills to do so. Her family spends the day struggling to survive. Her needs are more than they can manage. Her scars devalue her and her family. She is a burden to them now, a liability. Discouraged, they place her outside their home in the evening, and by morning she is found dead.
It shocks us to hear of children in such distress, left to die in the night. Her cries, like that of Psalmist, are the silent cries of many who suffer brokenness and alienation in its various forms in society. Our homeless, mentally ill, undocumented workers, and even returning deployed soldiers face this level of scorn and distain. The military men and women who worked to restore this child to health will return home to anger and adversity. Many who suffer face the societal equivalent of being left out in the evening to die; they are invisible, despised, damaged and unappreciated.
This young girl’s story is shockingly reminiscent of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19, deemed worthless and abandoned to the night to die. In her community, she is damaged, broken and worthless. No one will look upon her. Psalm 31 is prayed on Passion Sunday, a prayer written from isolation and rejection. We can hear the lament of this disfigured young girl as she sat outside her home, wondering who might come to her aid:
Be gracious to me, OLord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
Jesus was likewise scorned by society, the crowds shouted, “Let him be crucified” when they could not name any evil he had done. Christ was condemned and left to die on the cross so that we might be better than this; so that we live into resurrection, heal the broken hearted and bring wholeness to the world. As people of faith, we are called to be at the cross, with the persecuted. Like the military nurses and doctors healing the wounds of that innocent child, we are charged to be agents of healing for the rejected, condemned and persecuted.
The Psalmist places utter confidence in God sure of God’s presence in times of trial.
But I trust in you, OLord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
As followers of Christ, we are called to be that shining presence to the suffering among us; to see the unseen, to love the despised, and make whole the broken hearted. As we feed the homeless, visit the sick, write to the solider, and clothe the poor, each small act of justice helps lift the piercing eyes of condemnation. While we cannot change the tragedy of this young girl, faith in Christ and the hope of resurrection urges us to hear the cries for deliverance and to respond with acts of mercy.
Jeanette Cooper Hicks currently serves as Associate Pastor at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She earned her master of divinity degree from Louisville Seminary. Jeanette loves baking bread, drinking tea with friends and traveling with her family. She and her husband, Al, have four children - Elizabeth, Rebecca, Katherine and David.