Summary: How can the world pass by on the other side of people who need help? Are we really that cold of a society? Our hearts need to be softened towards the needs of others.


Elisa was born on February 11, 1989. She was a beautiful baby, despite the fact that she arrived underweight and addicted to crack cocaine. She had been conceived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, at a homeless shelter where her mother stayed and her father was a cook. The social workers at the hospital, horrified by her low birth weight, assigned custody to Elisa’s father, and did the right thing.

Gustavo became a conscientious father, raising Elisa on his own into a delightful, happy girl. He attended parenting classes, braided her hair every day, and made his daughter the focus of his life. A Greek prince, charmed by Elisa, paid for her tuition at Brooklyn Friends School. Meanwhile, Elisa’s mother was struggling with drug problems and an abusive new husband. She petitioned for and was granted unsupervised visits with Elisa, which the little girl soon came to dread. Elisa told her teachers at school that her mother locked her in a closet when she visited.

When Gustavo died of cancer in 1994, his relatives fought for custody of Elisa. However, her mother’s lawyer, from the Legal Aid Society, claimed that the society’s own caseworkers had visited the family and determined that Elisa would be better off with her mother’s family. The Child Welfare Administration also approved the girl’s mother, telling the court it had been monitoring the family for a year. The judge agreed, ordering Elisa to the home of her mother and stepfather, even though he was just back home after having served two months for stabbing Elisa’ mother seventeen times.

On November 29, 1995, was Elisa funeral. Her pretty dress and the flowers placed around her head in the casket couldn’t obscure all thirty of the circular marks left on her body by blows from a hand wearing a ring, and the wounds on her head from being beaten against a concrete wall. Her mother told police that she had forced Elisa to eat her own feces and had mopped the floor with Elisa’s head. The police discovered that she had been repeatedly sexually assaulted, and several neighbors said that they had called authorities several times about the family, having seen the children wander around in the middle of the night as the mother sought crack. Elisa would have been 7 in two months.

This event happened in the densely populated area of Brooklyn. Hundreds of people would have seen this family. Most people in the community would have known about the mother’s habit. But why did only several people call to the authorities. You would think that every family in the area would have called. The authorities did not even do anything. Maybe several are five or six. Maybe even ten people called. But this ten people would have been ten out of hundreds or probably ten out of thousands. Why did so many people turn a blind eye to the problems?

Maybe people turned away from the situation because of the nature of man. Even in Bible times people did not want to get involved in a difficult circumstances. Sometimes man prefers to not get involved. Luke 10:30-35 “Jesus replied and said, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him, and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ’Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you.”

Even in a day when hospitality was a major virtue, people were still crossing on the other side. People did not truly want to be a neighbor. It is easier to not get involved, your hands do not get dirty and your time is still your own. Today’s culture is even worst. People avoid helping others.

One reason people do not get involved is because of time. Notice that the Priest does not have time to stop. Maybe he has to get to worship or an important meeting. He has work to do. Getting involved is going to take precious time away from a time stressed culture. Let me just pretend this is not happening and then I can go on my merry way without feeling guilty. Satan is always timing us that we just do not have the time to help others.

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Gary Pettyjohn

commented on Nov 2, 2007

Matthew, This was a good but sad sermon. Thanks for being a person of compassion. I hope your stories will help other speak up for the weak.

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