Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Funishness

More Redesigning

Let me know if you like it. Is it too busy?

Sell Your Big House, Get One Half Its Size, then Give the Money to Africa

How edifying is that? Our pastor told us about a family in Ottawa (correction, Los Angeles) who did that. Well, I can't do that, but I did welcome a few unexpected guests to brunch today, a few people who I think really appreciated the companionship. A big sacrifice for an introvert! And me going to the store on the Sabbath to buy bacon. Gamiliel is rolling around in his grave.

Genesis 18:20-32 (NAB from the USCCB)

I was thinking about how truly rich this story is, a story whose wealth is often missed by its surface meaning and the homosexual aspect.

In those days, the LORD said: "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great,and their sin so grave,
that I must go down and see whether or not their actions
fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.
I mean to find out."

The anthropomorphism is so dramatic here. It raises the question: is this serious - does God really not know what is going on in Sodom and Gomorrah, but like an old man has to come closer to actually see? Clearly no. The Divine Author did not intend it that way, nor did the original human author. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that the original audience did understand it that way. And it works a particular power on that level too.

While Abraham's visitors walked on farther toward Sodom,
the LORD remained standing before Abraham.

This perplexed Augustine: why is it three angels at one moment and then the Lord as a distinct presence at another? Does this passage imply that of the three visitors, two were angels, one was God and it was the latter two who started walking toward Sodom, while the Lord remained to have the discussion that follows? Augustine said that this oscillation between the one and the three was a revelation of the Trinity: the One in Three and the Three in One. Scholars today would be apt to say its the sloppy remnants of two separate stories being blended together.

Then Abraham drew nearer and said:
"Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?
Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city;
would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it
for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it?
Far be it from you to do such a thing,
to make the innocent die with the guilty
so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike!
Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?"

The semitism here is dramatic: arguing with God, demanding an answer. The question is, where did Abraham derive his sense of justice? How does he know that it is better to spare the good even if this means sparing the evil too rather than punishing the wicked if it means punishing the good with them? It is not obvious that justice must work in that way, mathematically speaking anyway. We know he's right, because we are used to the idea that mercy is greater than justice, so to speak. But how does he know he's right? Was this just Abraham worrying about Lot, rather? We are told that Lot is living in Sodom just before it is destroyed. Is Lot the point of the story? We usually take it to be a broad theological lesson. But what if it was not originally taken to be so, but Abraham once again protecting his relative? The first time being his rescue of Lot from "Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him." (14:5) So, rather than theological, is this more a story illustrative of Abraham's sneakiness (aka wisdom to the Hebrews of the time) - holding God to His professed goodness in order to save his nephew? Lot plus his family, we take it, would number fewer than ten people (indeed, it seems only to be four - him, his wife and his two daughters).

I jump ahead to the final verse:

But he still persisted:
"Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time.
What if there are at least ten there?"
He replied, "For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it."

So the conversation ends with ten - not one righteous man - being a sufficient number. Wouldn't the theological point end with one? Clearly this is a subject speaking to his king. He is able to argue him down to ten in a most self-effacing manner. Lot is the one righteous man. The others are women. Do they count in the count? If they do not then the point of the story seems to be that God would even do it for one righteous man. But he doesn't spare Sodom and Gomorrah. He spares them for a short time, just long enough for all the righteous to escape. Thus, justice and mercy do not conflict. You'll note that in these OT stories, for as messy as the unfolding of God's plan often seems to be, it always ends with God keeping His word. Take for instance the promise of an heir to Abraham and then the order to sacrifice this heir. It seems for a while to be in jeopardy. But is it? It seems that in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah either justice or mercy must be sacrificed, but, in the end, neither one is sacrificed, because God is who He is. So it is a theological story, then, and not a story primarily about Abraham's cleverness? Clearly our tradition is unanimously in favour of the former.


  1. Somehow I knew that you would blog about that house story at mass. It was actually a couple in LA (I read the article in the Citizen)and the ultimate point was that the family has become a lot closer as they have a common philanthropic project for which they must sacrifice. And, no, the new design is not too busy.

  2. See, women pay attention to the details...

    I hope the family is on the mend?