readings for today follow the lectionary for the 13th week of ordinary
time in the “odd-year” cycle (as opposed to the “even
year” cycle). We have been hearing about God’s intervention
in human history for several days and today the amazing story of
the destruction of the cities of the plain (Sodom and Gomorrah)
and the rescue of Lot and his family is presented to us for our
inspiration and spiritual wisdom. The story challenges us, however,
because it ascribes to God a quality of vengeance and violence that
often seems to be very much at odds with the loving God of Jesus’
ministry and witness. But it seems to me that this famous account
is about the seriousness with which we are called to take the Reign
of God and all of its implications for our ordinary lives.
Perhaps it helps us to know that the sin that God is destroying
is not really a specific sexual sin as is often thought, but is
rather the murderous inhospitality of the people of the cities of
the plain. The people are described in the Genesis account as “users”
of the gifts of God and even of other human beings for their own
entertainment, power and pleasure. They do not value fellow humans,
they violate the fundamental law of hospitality and they are cruel
and rapacious toward those who are vulnerable in any way –
the poor, strangers and aliens, those, in short, that God favors,
according to the Hebrew prophets.
So God turns their world upside down. The literal meaning of the
Hebrew verb translated as “overthrow” in the text of
the New American Bible, is “to turn upside down.” In
effect, God upended their reality – probably by an earthquake
– and their lives and even their produce or the products of
their labor were destroyed.
But Lot and his family are saved because they are concerned about
the graciousness of God. Lot welcomed the strangers and aliens,
and even defended them with his life – he didn’t seem
to practice the using and abusing of other human beings for his
own power, pleasure or wealth – and God went so far as to
allow Lot to set the conditions for his salvation. “I am not
able to get all the way to the mountains, couldn’t I just
go to that small town down the way – and you save that small
town?” When a person takes the Reign of God and its conditions
for human life seriously, God takes the person very seriously indeed.
God’s Reign has been inaugurated by Jesus, as witnessed in
the account of the storm at sea in today’s Gospel, and will
come to fulfillment within human history – on earth as it
is in heaven. Wherever the reign of human culture contradicts God’s
reign it will be upended and the products of human self-aggrandizement
will be destroyed.
The image of God that emerges for me from the story is one of infinite
mercy, and absolute justice – this seeming polarity demands
careful prayer and honest evaluation of our own lives and the standards
of the kingdom we are actually following.