Emma Pitman reflects on the unjust structure of the Jericho road for our 16 days of prayer against Domestic & Family Violence - Foundations for Christian Action.

Structures of Violence

Unjust power structures operate like the Jericho road, where power imbalances are part of the landscape

Emma Pitman is a writer from Sydney. Her work has appeared in various publications, including The Lifted Brow and Meanjin. She is an ADM 2019 Creative Fellow, and is currently working on a collection of essays that explore gender, power and hope.

Luke 10:25-37 The Parable of the Good Samaritan

'On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”'

The Jericho road was notoriously dangerous. It was violent, a place where oppression was built into the way the landscape was organised. The traveller in the parable was inherently at risk and being alone made him especially vulnerable. Jesus tells us that robbers ‘stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.’

When the priest and the Levi passed him by, we can imagine that they had their reasons for not stopping - it was dangerous. What if he was faking to lure them in and attack them? What if the robbers were still around? It looks like a lost cause - this is just what it’s like on the Jericho road. He shouldn’t have been travelling alone. These are responses that centred themselves, or blame the victim. They prioritise what the consequences would be for them if they engaged with this injustice, rather than what the consequences could be for the traveller if they didn’t. As is often the case, the difference was life and death.

This is likely a familiar response for all of us. It makes sense to turn away from suffering, to exercise that privilege. We forget that those experiencing oppression don’t have the option to look away or opt out.

Unjust power structures operate like the Jericho road, where power imbalances are part of the landscape, sometimes difficult to spot because history makes oppression look normal and its many casualties - the women who are killed by their partners or former partners each week, the one to two Indigenous people who have died in custody every month since August 2018, and so many more - still seem not to evoke the urgency they should. To me this indicates a deep and ugly presumption about which human lives are valuable. Certain groups are inevitably more at risk in a world where they have historically been on the margins, often excluded from tangible, institutional participation in the formation of the civil society in which they live.

Our attention must be first with victims of oppression, as we lament, support, and advocate alongside them, but our attention must also go to the structures that produce consistent injustice.

In reflecting on the Good Samaritan, Martin Luther King Jr. said the following:

'On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars, needs restructuring.'

I see myself on the Jericho road. Sometimes I am the traveller, moving through patriarchal power structures with the low level vigilance that becomes second nature. Like most other women you know, I have been underestimated, belittled, harassed, objectified and worse.

But my reflection cannot stop there. I have various other identities that insulate me from the structural oppression that others experience. As an able bodied, middle class, straight, white person, there are ways in which I could so easily become the priest and the Levite, choosing to place my comfort above the lives and pain of others, others who share my primary identity, as a child of God.


What might it look like to support an individual experiencing injustice, and what does it look like to challenge a system that produces injustice?

What are some of the things that make it hard to see structural oppression?


Father, bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted. Help us tend the hurting and broken. (You may wish to name those close to you who are broken-hearted, hurting and broken right now)
We lament and cry out against the structures that produce consistent injustice.
Make us people of transformation, working for the restructuring of systems of violence. (You may wish to name those contexts that you are in that you feel need to be transformed)
Send us out today in your strength and with your tender care we pray,

Go Deeper

If you would like to explore your church’s culture of power, this article will point you to some helpful questions to ask: 


16 Days of Prayer Against Domestic and Family Violence