The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.” But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.
But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door. Genesis 19:1-11
Now we reach the hideous scene from Sodom. Although much was made of Abraham’s plea for mercy and his offer to find ten righteous people in Sodom and its sister city, Gomorrah, not mention is made that he even went there to look. Which might suggest something to us – the quest for righteous people wasn’t the point.
What IS the point of this story?
For a long time now, this story, along with the other six references in the Bible to same gender sexual behaviors, has to used to vilify homosexuality. Some claim homosexuality to be unnatural. That it is a sign of the sinful fallenness of creation. That it is a sad flaw, like blindness. That it is a sickness to be rejected and recovered from, like alcoholism. That it is a mental illness that can be reversed with the proper behavioral modification therapy. That it is perverse and maybe even contagious, thus Russia’s new laws prohibiting public displays or adoptions by same sex couples.
You’ve heard all the arguments. I have too. You have seen the emotional responses and the heard the tone of voice this topic invites. You’ve heard the slurs and the one liners and watched the votes that mean freedom to some and moral degradation to others.
Is that really the point of this story? Inviting all of that? Is this story the last word on the subject or is it possibly beside the point?
Beside the point? How could it be BESIDE the point of homosexuality?
Because it isn’t about homosexuality at all.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a story designed to the smallest detail to make us cringe in revulsion at the hideous treatment that the two angelic visitors receive. It pulls out all the stops. Although Lot receives the visitors warmly and offers the appropriate kind of desert hospitality, the local townspeople are painted in the darkest colors of evil.
Every single male in the town, young and old, to the last man – suggesting that there isn’t a single righteous man in the whole village – surround Lot’s house and demand that he let them have the visitors. This isn’t about same sex attraction, this is about vicious violence. This is about sexual violence, about debasement, about cruelty. This is about what happens when men use rape as an instrument of terror. This is about the horrible stories we have read about the civil wars in Africa, the horrible abuses of men and women in World War II, the pictures from Abu Ghraib.
Why this portrait of Sodom? Perhaps that is just the way it was. It had earned its reputation. It was a “scapegoat city”, a refuge for indecent behavior. I guess there are modern Americans who would like Sodom to our favorite scapegoat cities – Las Vegas, San Franciso, New Orleans, and Washington, DC. There is something in us that wants to “localize” misbehavior. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” when the dirty little secret is that what happens in Vegas happens everywhere.
Here’s what I think the point really is: The story doesn’t end here, even after Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the crowd and after the crowd is struck with blindness. The story doesn’t end with fire and brimstone raining down upon the city, with Lot and his family fleeing, even with Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt as a punishment for looking back at the action.
No, the story doesn’t end until Genesis 19:30-38. Go ahead, read it for yourself. The story ends with Lot’s two daughters getting him drunk, sleeping with him, getting pregnant, and becoming the mothers of the two tribes, the Ammonites and the Moabites. Two tribes, by the way, that were enemies of Israel, tribes which Israel contended against time after time after time.
The whole story is written as a justification for tribal animosity, through demonization of a particular bloodline.
This human tendency, these dividing lines, this kind of dehumanization, is what happened when Roman soldiers callously hung Jesus of Nazareth on a cross. He wasn’t human, he was a Jew. I still follow Jesus because of his words while he suffered, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
Let us pray: Forgive us Father, for we still know not what we do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.