Two years ago I wrote Misnomers about the term self-help, arguably a fallacy. Now for a short reflection on one of the very worst of misnomers, which is thankfully being more accurately re-defined by people of faith….
The ancient story behind this word has no doubt been made into a Hollywood movie. It’s a classic, graphic tale of sex, violence, subversion, heroism and the supernatural – and of course the perennial battle between good and evil.
The two main characters each give vivid demonstrations of the kind of hospitality to strangers considered a mark of common decency in their culture (then and now), and in the process discover they’ve taken in supernatural beings who have the power to destroy a city.
The majority of the city’s population, however, had become self-seeking, self-interested, self-satisfied. In their arrogance and wealth, they’d become inward-looking, had forgotten how to extend kindness to strangers or look after the poor, and were interested only in satisfying their own cravings for wealth and sex, even going so far as trying to abuse rather than welcome visitors to their city.
In contrast, because of their noble character and faith, the two heroes of the story (Abraham and Lot) are spared from the city’s destruction brought on by God as judgment against its greed and selfishness, while the rest of the city’s population get wiped out (1).
Many centuries after this episode was written, as Jesus sends out his first disciples to various towns and cities as messengers of good news, he gives a stern warning to those with closed hearts and closed homes who might reject these strangers, declaring that justice for those people will be even more severe than it was for that other city of old (2).
The ancient city, if you haven’t already guessed, was Sodom, from which the English language has acquired the terrible misnomer sodomy.
Quite rightly, some progressive Christians have given the word sodomy a new definition – to mean a lack of hospitality or disregard for the poor (3), in line with the word’s origins.
Time and again, Jesus and the New Testament writers commend those who have open hearts, open minds and open homes.
Although it may not always be safe or appropriate to invite strangers into our homes. we can at least…
…be generous-hearted, kind towards strangers, whether homeless, poor, addicted, middle-class or rich, with our hearts, words and time as well as with our stuff…
…be willing to listen to people who think and behave differently from us and learn from them – people who have had vastly different life experiences from our own…..
…to engage in dialogue with people with different theological, spiritual or moral viewpoints from ours and learn from them…..
…to make time for visitors and new arrivals in our hearts and towns…..
…to make room for migrants on our jam-packed island……
…and to care in some way for those who are marginalised or dispossessed.
When we do such things, we may experience something of the blessing of God in our souls.
We may find ourselves engaging with Jesus in his goal of breaking down barriers between people of different cultures, class, race, gender and sexuality – reversing inequality.
We may unwittingly stumble upon angels in our interactions.
We will certainly, I believe, encounter something of God in the faces of those we meet, whether we realise it or not.
And we create our own untold tales of heroism, hospitality and triumph of good over evil, as we battle against true sodomy.
(Wondering what this blog is all about, and who A Child of Grace is? Please read my About page. Thanks!)
- Genesis (chapters 18 & 19); Ezekiel 16:49-50
- Matthew 10:14-15
- Mardi Gras, Sodomy, & Us: the sodomites among us – tend to be us.