Common Jeopardy

Month-old Ruth Ann Jeanette was to have portrayed Jesus in a Christmas Eve musical pageant titled "Journey to Bethlehem." She was the youngest of eight in a three-generation family group traveling to the service of the United Methodist Church in Westminster, Maryland. Also in the compact car were her mother, two sisters 18 months old and 3 years old, her 45-year-old grandmother, Martha Proctor, who as director of Christian education for the church was to direct the pageant, and three other Proctor children, Terry, 23, Sheila, 17, and Roger, 14.

The family did not reach "Bethlehem." At about 3:55 p.m. Christmas Eve [1981], a 1969 station wagon with a man later charged with drunken driving at the wheel swerved across the center line into a head-on collision with the car. Five of the eight were killed: Ruth Ann, her sisters Pauline Marie and Rebecca Ann, her uncles, Terry, who was to have portrayed Joseph in the pageant, and Roger. Ruth Ann's mother and grandmother were gravely injured and have needed long hospitalization. Sheila, who had the role of Mary, was injured but not as seriously.

Ruth Ann Jeanette did that day take the part of Jesus. She was thrust into a far deeper identification with him than would have come in the pageant. Jesus was killed by the onslaught of human sin. But he said that he stands with all who are victimized, with the hungry and thirsty, with the homeless and the naked, with the sick and the imprisoned. He is in and behind such victims: "Anything you did not do for one of these, however humble, you did not do for me" (Matthew 25:45). The risen Jesus stands in the closest personal identification with those who suffer, with those who die this day as victims of tyranny and human folly in El Salvador and Guatemala, in Afghanistan and Poland, in South Africa and Lebanon. He was there with those eight in that smashed automobile on Christmas Eve.

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