This Part is Optional

Monday, February 3, 2014 – Week of 4 Epiphany, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 56, 57, (58) (morning) // 64, 68 (evening)

Genesis 19:1-17(18-23)24-29

Hebrews 11:1-12

John 6:27-40

My, there are a lot of parentheses in the appointed Scripture readings for today. The first optional reading is Psalm 58, which cries out to God to break the teeth of the wicked, and which declares that the righteous will be glad and bathe their feet in the blood of their enemies. (You don’t have to read the whole Psalm if you don’t want to.)

The second optional passage today is a portion of Genesis, from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Compared to the rest of the story, this optional section has very little shock value. Lot simply negotiates with the angels about where he and his family should flee. They’ve told him to head for the hills, or he will be consumed. Lot asks them for a favor: Let him escape to the city of Zoar, and let Zoar escape destruction. The angels grant his request.

The rest of the material in today’s first reading includes a lot that I’d rather not read, but it isn’t safely tucked away in parentheses. We have the men of Sodom, who try to knock down Lot’s door in order to assault foreign guests. We have Lot, who protects these strangers but instead offers his virgin daughters for these men to abuse as they please. We have sulfur and fire raining from heaven to utterly destroy two cities, all of their inhabitants, and even the plants that grow on the ground. And we have Lot’s wife, who is turned into a pillar of salt for the small offense of looking back toward the home she’s leaving behind.

So many characters in this story suffer from a severely limited sense of their options. Lot, our main character, has the most acute case of constrained possibilities. When the men come to attack his guests, Lot presents them with what he considers to be his only other option: “Look, I have two daughters . . . let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men.” But the would-be attackers will not accept this offer, and they nearly break down Lot’s door.

The guests, however, have another option. They bring Lot inside, shut the door, and strike all of the men at the door with blindness, so that they can’t find the door at all.

When Lot’s back is against the wall (or against the door), he thinks that his only alternative is to offer another human being to satiate the mob violence. Under threat, we also might find ourselves desperate to appease evil forces by giving up something we should cherish. Or, we might think we need to satisfy a seemingly vengeful God with an atoning sacrifice.

But Lot’s guests have at least one alternative that Lot didn’t have: to hide the most vulnerable part of Lot’s house by blinding the potential invaders. In other words, they completely close the door and throw away the key to any possibility that sacrifices one good at the expense of another. Lot chose to privilege the values of hospitality toward guests over the values of safeguarding his family, but these angel-men would not make such a choice. They looked for another way.

What if Lot had had a more expansive sense of possibility? Would he have been able to negotiate an even more generous salvation for himself, his family, and the people around him, as he did for Zoar?

And what about us, especially when we are under stress or under siege? Can God save us from making decisions out of fear? Can we close and hide the door to a world that sacrifices some people to allegedly save others? Can we at least set off in parentheses the idea of a violent and vengeful God who saves some people and destroys others?

What if we imagined more for ourselves? What if we asked more of our God? Lot’s vision was extremely limited, but ours can be bigger. That’s what this season of Epiphany is for—to help us see by a light that shows us new doors, new roads, new horizons.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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