You may remember that a couple of weeks ago our Gospel lesson was the story of the good Samaritan. He was on his way to Jerusalem when he came across a man who had been beaten and robbed. The good Samaritan helped him. We want to be like the good Samaritan, right?
If you’re a US citizen, though, that may be a little dicey. Recently, United States citizens have been arrested for offering water, food, and other kinds of help to migrants at the southern border. This policy criminalizes simple kindness. It’s a violation of Christian’s religious freedom as our faith requires us to welcome strangers and to provide for them. The way it is now, everyone, regardless of faith, has to think twice before they act like a good Samaritan. The USA isn’t the first government to do that, though. Sodom did it too.
Last week’s reading from Genesis and this one really should be read together because they are both selections about how we treat strangers. Last week, while recovering from is circumcision, Abraham played host to three strangers who turned out to be angels. He made a great feast for them, because that is what God’s people do. Abraham was very good at showing hospitality. Legend has it that God had made the desert especially hot in the days after Abraham’s circumcision so that he wouldn’t have to be bothered with the duties of hospitality, but it made Abraham sad that there were no visitors so God sent the three angels so that he could fulfill this commandment. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it tells us something about Abraham. He was good at hospitality.
We all have things that we may do particularly well. Some preach or teach, some are good parents, some are extra-good citizens and never miss a vote. Abraham was good at hospitality. That is where he really shined. That is why this week’s reading is so compelling.
This passage takes up as two of the angels left Abraham’s tent and went down to Sodom to see if the people there had followed God’s command to clean up their act. Sodom had a very bad reputation when it came to showing kindness to the poor and welcoming strangers. They didn’t. They had made it a crime.
One time a girl in Sodom was convicted of giving bread to a poor person. As punishment, she was covered in honey and placed in front of a wasp’s nest. She died of wasp stings. Some people think she was Lot’s daughter.
It was perfectly legal to rob a visitor to Sodom.
If anybody did dare to visit Sodom and they wanted a bed for the night they had to perfectly fit the bed. If not they would either have their legs cut off or be stretched out to fit.
There is a story of Elizer, Abraham’s servant, who visited Sodom. Elizer knew the laws and refused to sleep on a bed and saved his legs. That he had gotten away with it angered someone who punched his lights out and caused Elizer to bleed. Elizer was taken in front of the judge who ordered Elizer to pay a large fine for the bloodletting.
It’s crazy, right? What possible logic could there be for laws like that? As it turns out, they did have their reasons. The Sodomites had a fierce work ethic: No free lunches, everybody pulls their own weight. They believed that showing kindness to strangers or those in need caused them to become dependent on the largess of others and disinclined to earn their own way.
For example, if you invited a stranger to your wedding, you would be punished by having all your clothes stripped off. The justification for this punishment was the false belief that offering such kindness to someone stripped them of their dignity.
Given what we know about life in Sodom… and there’s more, trust me… it seems like Abraham would have been glad to see it destroyed. Sodom was the opposite of Abraham. Sodomite values were diametrically opposed to Abraham’s values. He surely wouldn’t mind seeing them demolished. We are not so different, are we? If you are good or faithful about something, doesn’t it seem unreasonable when others fail in those areas? Sure it does. Why can’t everybody be good like you?
Abraham was not like that, though. He had compassion on Sodom and asked God to spare it. He is an example of speaking truth to power, even when that power is God!
It is clear that there were people in Sodom who did not go along with business as usual. They did give to the poor, they did help strangers, and they did practice kindness. They also paid a high price for it.
This might be a good Sunday to think about what price you are willing to pay. It is easy enough to follow Christ when the only cost is getting up earlier on Sunday morning, maybe a few coins in the plate. But, the law of love is increasingly in opposition to the law of the land, and the cost of following Christ may go up.
What’s your price?
How high are you willing to go?
Linda McMillan is still battling allergies in Texas and counting the potential cost of all kinds of things.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
Article about US Citizens being arrested for helping migrants.
The story about the girl dying of wasp stings is from Kindness Versus Independence by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen and published at Aish.com.
Information about the laws of Sodom is from Possession Obsession by Rabbi Eli Scheller and published at Aish.com.
“Rav Yitzchak Berkovits explains that the people of Sodom believed that doing chessed (kindness) for another person, constituted an act of base cruelty. By providing someone else with what he needs without him having to earn it, one is encouraging him to be dependent on other people for his livelihood. Since he would always depend on others, he would never be able become an independent and productive member of society.”
From Kindness Versus Independence by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen and published at Aish.com.
In the story of Elizer it is said that Elizer responded to his punishment by punching the judge and saying that the judge also owed a large fine for his own bloodletting and that the judge should just pay the first man directly.