What is the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? You may think you know the answer to this question. The lesson we have been taught in (most) churches, and have seen proudly proclaimed by the protestors of Westboro Baptist is this: sexual perversion. No doubt God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was finally provoked by a sexual perversion (Genesis 19:5-14). But, what if the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was something deeper and darker? What if, like a cough is the symptom of a more serious virus, the event in Genesis is merely a symptom of a more serious diagnosis?
Ezekiel 16:49 is painfully clear about what led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Behold, this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? An apathy toward the poor coupled with prideful abundance. What terrifies me about this more than anything else is how ominously this same judgment could be said of America, and specifically me.
Arrogant, Overfed, Unconcerned Me
Writhing on the ground from a fall, I happened upon a middle-aged man and woman who had fallen into the street during rush hour. Cars zoomed pass narrowly avoiding making the couple tragic road kill. I stopped just shy of them, turned on my emergency flashers and asked what had happened and if they needed paramedics.
It’s no mistake that I read the story of the good Samaritan from Luke 10 earlier this same week. In the story, a priest happens upon a man who was left for dead in the street. First, a priest passes by like dozens of cars probably did before I arrived on the scene. A second man happens upon the man left for dead, and he passed on the other side of the street like the many of the people who were angrily honking their horns and swerving out of the way frustrated by the inconvenience of two hurting people lying in the street. In Jesus’ story an unlikely man, a Samaritan, felt compassion and stopped to care for the man in the street. He got close, bound up his wounds and even went above and beyond by providing and paying for care for the victim. Jesus’ story is about showing neighbor-love for the poor and needy. Unfortunately, in my story, there is no good Samaritan. Just me. In that moment, I was what could have been a 4th man in Jesus’ story.
I could have been the fourth man who Jesus might have described like this: “Yet, another man passed by and in seeing the man lying in the street, stopped so that he would not feel guilty for passing, but provided only the bare minimum help that he felt was required of him.”
I stopped. I called the paramedics. But, I also kept a healthy distance and then left as soon as the paramedics were on the scene. I didn’t want to get too close. Dilated eyes, slurred speech and an inability to recover equilibrium gave me the suspicion that these people were abusers of a substance rather than victims of abuse from robbers like in the Luke passage. In that moment, I felt like their drunkenness gave me permission to keep my distance.
The story from Luke 10 comes from a question. Jesus is asked by a lawyer how to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds with the sum of all the commands; to love God and to love your neighbor. The lawyer, seeking to justify himself, asked “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells him this story. Like the lawyer, I was hoping to justify myself. I knew I couldn’t pass and honor God, but I didn’t want offer much help either. Like an arrogant, overfed and unconcerned neighbor, I didn’t “help the poor and needy,” but did the least I could do to make myself feel “not-guilty.” My reaction in that moment is a metaphor of how I treat my neighbors and the poor and needy every single day.
When I happen upon my poor and needy neighbors, I rarely stop and help. I know within my heart that I have a tendency to ‘not get too close.’ I justify my apathy by saying “I will give to an organization that will provide help to that person.” I reactively offer the bare minimum without considering how I can proactively go above and beyond to love my neighbor. I give myself all kinds of excuses for this too. I may justify my passivity because of of this person’s perceived behavior. “They will just go and spend the money on booze or drugs anyway.” What is interesting about the story from Luke 10 is that nothing is ever mentioned about the character or the attitude of the victim. The focus is on the character and attitude of the passers-by.
We do not love the poor because they have merited our gift. We love the poor because we are so overwhelmed with gratitude for the many good gifts God has given us, His Son being the greatest gift of all. We reflect the same attitude that Jesus Christ has for the poor.
What was Jesus’ attitude toward the poor? Jesus tells us that we are rewarded for caring for the poor. Luke 14:12-14 says, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Jesus also identifies with the poor in that he considers whatever we do for them as counting as a gift to Him! Matthew 25:37-39 says, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
God has a special preference for the poor. This is an unmistakable biblical theme. And, if we as His Body want to reflect His heart and attitude, we must also care for the poor. Scott Rae said, “The church’s concern for the poor is one of the clearest illustrations of God’s unconditional care for the individual person, and perhaps is one of the reasons why such care for the poor is mandated.” Most Christians in America are rich, even if they would not consider themselves to be rich. Do even cursory research on global income rates and poverty and you will see just how rich you are. My hope is that you and I will not be judged as being ‘arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; not helping the poor and needy.’ Instead, may we follow the instruction Paul gave to Timothy regarding the rich:
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” – 1 Timothy 6:17-19