Week 6–“Who is ‘the Sojourner’”?: The Sin of Sodom—Inhospitality

Saturday, April 8: The Sin of Sodom

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).

In Genesis 19, the messengers from God come to Sodom as gerim—as “sojourners,” outsiders, strangers.  Sodom, however, is not kind to strangers.  When the messengers tell Lot that they intend to sleep in the town square, he is horrified—he begs them not to do so, but to come into his house, and under his protection, instead (Gen 19:2-3).  Lot knows all too well what happens to strangers found in Sodom after dark. Sure enough, once the strangers are discovered, a lynch mob assembles outside of Lot’s home.  What the mob wants to do to the strangers has nothing to do with anyone’s idea of consensual, sexual intimacy.  This is about mob violence: rape and humiliation.  That homosexuality is not the issue is made clear by Lot’s terrible attempted bargain: to save the lives of his guests, he offers to send out his daughters (Gen 19:7-8)!  But Lot’s defense of the strangers only serves to remind the mob that, although he has lived in Sodom among them for years, Lot is a foreigner himself: “This fellow came here as an alien [Hebrew lagur, related to the noun ger; KJV “to sojourn”], and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them” (Gen 19:9).

Remember the shameful photographs of Iraqi P.O.W.s, stripped naked and forced into humiliating poses, from the American prison at Abu Ghraib? They tragically demonstrate that the way of the men of Sodom, the way of the lynch mob, is with us still.  The Sodom story, like Abu Ghraib, is about the humiliation and dehumanization of the stranger. The contrast between the abuse visited on strangers by the people of Sodom and the hospitality shown to strangers by Abraham and by Lot surely make the point: God calls us to treat the ger—the immigrant, the refugee—with kindness. God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah demonstrates that this is a command, not an option.

Prayer: Tomorrow, O Christ, Holy Week begins. We remember how you were rejected by the people of your city, condemned, stripped, humiliated, tortured, and killed. Forgive us, we pray, our complicity in the violence of our own times, if only through our silence. Help us to stand, as you stood, with the “sojourner.” In your own holy name, Amen.


Four of the Old Testament readings for Holy Week are poems from Isaiah 40—55: a portion of this prophetic book commonly called Second Isaiah, set in the Babylonian exile. These four passages, Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; and 52:13—53:12, all deal with the Servant of the Lord, a mysterious figure whose mission involves not only the deliverance of Israel, but also the transformation of the world. Christian readers have long seen the Servant of the Lord as foreshadowing Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor 15:3; Acts 8:32-35; 1 Peter 2:22-25), an understanding that may well go back to Jesus himself. But this does not mean that the prophet’s words had no meaning for his own time or people—or that they do not address us as well.

The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber suggested that the Servant Songs do not describe one particular person, but rather set forth the way of the Servant, a new understanding of Israel’s past and future particularly as revealed through suffering. The Servant’s way is “the work born out of affliction,” culminating in “the liberation of the subject peoples, laid upon the servant, the divine order of the expiated world of the nations, which the purified servant as its ‘light’ has to bring in, the covenant of the people of the human beings with God, the human center of which is the servant” (Martin Buber, The Prophetic Faith, trans. Carlyle Witton-Davies [New York: Macmillan, 1949], 229).  The way of the Servant is the path of redemptive suffering; the way of selfless, sacrificial love (Heb 9:12) which led Jesus inexorably to the cross. But the way of the Servant is not Jesus’ path alone. Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). This week, we will consider how we, too, are called to walk in the way of the servant of the Lord.


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