The Man in the Ditch…Today

Originally posted at:


Tad de Bordenave

We now turn our attention to the parable of the Good Samaritan and the central character of the story —  the man in the ditch. Jesus described him with terms that are brief and grim. The man was “stripped, wounded, and left half-dead.” This was not a pretty sight! No wonder the priest and the Levite saw him and “passed by on the other side.”

In today’s world the man in the ditch would be a people ignored, trodden upon, severely crippled, and near death. I will describe four groups that fit him today, each linked to one of these conditions.

1. Those Stripped: Indigenous People. These are the original habitants on their lands. They are the American Indians, the Baka pygmies of Cameroon, the Masai of Kenya, the Maya of Mexico, and millions like them.

The invaders arrived, equipped with better armament and selfish intentions. They also carried the unchallenged authority of the papal bull of 1455 known as The Doctrine of Discovery. This decree gave the right to force the natives either to Christianity or to captivity. The techniques of evangelization were perverse and brutal; the rule over the captives more perverse and more brutal. But the law was established and permission granted – without charity or respect for the indigenous people.

In the past the Doctrine of Discovery centered on gold, slaves, land, or even conversion. Throughout history it has found close alliance with the greed and the arrogance within the breast of whomever the invaders may be – by race, by economy, by social status.

Indigenous people suffer most.  They are far from the seats of power and live at whim of the ravenous interests of those who dominate. Make no mistake about it: these interests rarely honor and respect the indigenous people and their culture.

2. Near Death: The unborn child. This is a case of unseen in plain sight. In the background are the unborn babies, but in the foreground attention keys on the mother.  The assumption is the right of the mother to go full term or have the baby killed. (Is that not the verb that goes with the noun abortion?) What we hear is, “Reproductive rights protect the health of the mother.” In court decisions, “Tell the government to keep their hands off my body.” We are not to ask about the health of the unborn inside the mother, nor the government protecting the other body within the womb.

Any hint of a living being inside the mother is carefully avoided. To cross that threshold could lead to acknowledging an unborn child, one who has heartbeat, feels pain, and responds to music. That thread would also lead to verboten topics like the scalpel and the remains. To talk of these topics is unfair. The life of the unborn child is a life at risk.

3. The Wounded: Nomads.  There are massive numbers of people today who have never heard of Jesus Christ. Research highlights them with great accuracy about location, customs, religion, and more.

Except when it comes to nomads. They move around. They are always on the move. They migrate with the seasons. They would rather walk than settle. That is simply how they live. They are highly civilized, well organized, and prepared for the uncertainties around them. And they have few entries in mission research.

Once while traveling in southern Morocco I spent a few hours with the leader of a caravan that had just come in from North Africa.  We gathered near the dorms of a school, but that didn’t matter. The leader had his tent and his rugs. No walled room, no ceiling, no building. His home was his tent, and it had all he needed, though he was embarrassed that he couldn’t offer me anything to eat since it was Ramadan. He had not heard of the United States of America, but he did know how to thrive in the desert for days and weeks.

They are easy targets to governments who prefer not to recognize their existence. They are denied education in their language, voting rights, and property rights. The trend is to isolate and eradicate them. These actions reduce nomads to the unwanted, the unimportant. They make no contribution to society and are worthy of no privilege.

And they are out sight of most missionary efforts and remain ignorant of the Gospel. That is why I single out nomads and their particular wounds.

4. The Unnoticed: Muslims and their mosques in your neighborhood and mine. These, too, are unseen in plain sight. Their mosques are large buildings with large parking areas. When their worship ends on Friday afternoons, police stand out front to direct the heavy traffic. And yet they are almost unnoticed.

I sometimes visit mosques with a friend. They always welcome us, present a Qur’an in English, and give seats as honored guests. At one mosque I met a doctor whose son had just attended a class on memorizing the Qur’an. I asked if he might tell me what he had learned. He did and his memorization extended for over one minute. On another visit I met twin boys who attend a local high school. We had several minutes of lighthearted banter, after which they expressed the hope that we would return.

The focal point of the sermons is the afterlife – how to prepare for it, what it holds, how secularism can blunt their faith. At the end of worship they all stand shoulder to shoulder, strangers united by race and nationality – a essential feature of their religion.

Their doors are open to us, and yet we know not their faith, nor what drew them to Islam, nor the basic teachings of their religion. They are hidden, yes, but they do not hide. We just do not know them.

Nest week we will return to these groups through the eyes of contemporary priests and Levites – the ones who “passed by on the other side.”

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