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. 2He 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.’ 3But 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.
4But 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; 5and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.’ 6Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8Look, 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.’ 9But 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. 10But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11And 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.
12 Then the men said to Lot, ‘Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city—bring them out of the place. 13For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.’ 14So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, ‘Up, get out of this place; for the Lord is about to destroy the city.’ But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.
15 When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.’ 16But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city. 17When they had brought them outside, they said, ‘Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed.’ 18And Lot said to them, ‘Oh, no, my lords; 19your servant has found favour with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life; but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. 20Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!’ 21He said to him, ‘Very well, I grant you this favour too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. 22Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.’ Therefore the city was called Zoar. 23The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.
24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; 25and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
“Living our Blessing”
Last week we began to hear Jesus’ stump speech—what we call “the Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus started out by turning things upside down and inside out regarding WHO is blessed and WHAT blessings get us. Like other famous speeches (I’m thinking most especially of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech), this sermon paints a picture of a new world—God’s kingdom.
And rightly we might think that since Jesus is talking about a new world order, that he also is negating what has gone before (Ann Marie, and Jesus, would tell you that is an incorrect use of logic). So, the second part of Jesus’ speech has Jesus directly saying, “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it” and even more so, telling his followers that they too should not just fulfill the law but exceed the scribes and the Pharisees in righteousness.
And how are we to do that? By being salt and light. “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.” This seems easy enough—being the light of the world is something we have been hearing about from Isaiah (and Luke) as the mark of the One coming from God, “a light to the Gentiles” and the glory of my people Israel (see Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus includes us—YOU are the light of the world. This image is so popular that we have a children’s song “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”
Today I’d like to focus on the other image—salt. Salt is used for seasoning (“if the salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” Jesus asks), and we who have such ready access to salt may not understand how significant salt was to preserving and flavoring food. Salt was also precious—it was cast on burnt offerings to make them more pleasing to God. It was even used as a symbol of the covenant of friendship, as in Num. 18:19 (and 2 Chron. 13:5) where God tells Aaron—“All the holy offerings that the Israelites present to the Lord I have given to you, together with your sons and daughters, as a perpetual due; it is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and your descendants as well” (Num. 18:19).
But there is one other very prominent image of salt in the First Scriptures—the story I learned in Sunday School of Lot’s wife, the one who was disobedient to the angels as they were escaping from Sodom. She looked back, and became a pillar of salt. I began to rethink this story early in my ministry when I attended a woman’s liturgy experience on “Salt” by Gail Riccuiti and Rose Mitchell in Rochester, NY. A seed was planted there that has continued to grow.
It’s too easy to say that “ha, just flavor the world”; or “ha, just light up those around you.” Remember, Jesus has started his teaching with exploding the known ideology of blessing. Why would his conversation about salt and light be any different?
Being salt and light in the world means helping to cleanse as well as preserve, helping to shine a light on the not so pretty history of our species. And Lot’s wife is such a wonderful example of this. Now you may have heard the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as the Biblical touchstone against homosexuality. And/or you may have been chided not to be like Lot’s wife, lest God turn you into a pillar of salt. But taking Jesus at his word, with salt and light, let’s examine this passage.
First, I think we can agree—the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were pretty terrible. Here there were visitors (who one was supposed to be hospitable to), and the men of the town wanted to “mess them up.” Lest we get too caught up in the “them versus us” mentality, notice that Lot thinks he can bribe the mob with his virgin daughters instead—telling me that this mob had everything to do with power over and nothing to do with who one might love. So much for Sodom and homosexuality.
Second, I think we need to take another look at who disobeys God’s messengers. That’s the reason given why Lot’s wife, who doesn’t even get a name, is turned into a stone pillar (not even really as valuable as a pillar of salt). Lot has obviously seen the power of these men, these messengers, these angels of God. They saved him from the mob when he was trying to prostitute his daughters. They have given him instructions to leave the city, but he lingers. (That’s disobedience, isn’t it?). The angels have to actually lay hands on Lot and his family and propel them out of the city—and tell them to run to the hills, for they are about to destroy it all. Does Lot run? No, he wants to negotiate (Isn’t that disobedience?)
Lot says, “I’m not sure I can run to the hills—they are so far away. What if I go to that little town over there—it’s small. Can’t you just save that one little town?” And the angels relent—yes, yes, go to the town, but hurry because we can’t let fly the fire and brimstone until you are safe.
So Lot can get away with not leaving, and dragging his feet so much that the angels have to physically put him outside the city, and he can get away with not going where he was supposed to go (the hills) and changing the plan of destroying all the towns in the area called “the Plain,”—but Lot’s wife, can’t “get away” with sneaking a look back at her home, her friends, her life.
I’ve even mused in other years about whether this pillar of salt is metaphoric—for I can imagine that Lot’s wife was crying, great heaving sobs, as you often see people do when they are faced with walking away from everything they had and everything they knew. Our tears are full of salt.
Lot’s wife stands as a testament. Her tears engulf her, and then include all the wrong done to women over the millennia. Her saltiness reminds us not to give up our emotional connection to others and to our world. Why is it that Lot’s wife is lifted up as the emblem of disobedience, when all we read about salt, everywhere else, is how precious it is, how needed it is, how wonderful it is.
So, when Jesus says, You are the salt of the earth, I think of Lot’s wife. I think of the terrible world she inhabited, where things had gotten so bad, that even though God had promised not to destroy the earth again after the flood, this place needed to be wiped off the map. I think of our world, and all its so obvious flaws. I think of girls who still are used as pawns for men. I think of women whose contributions are still not considered as righteous (just listen to people talk about who is a viable candidate for president). I think of the inhospitable way that we in the United States treat people who do not look like us, or talk like us, or pray like us, or love like us.
I’m not suggesting that God bring “shock and awe” to our world—much as I would like change to happen. No, we are given the job. We are to cry the tears of Lot’s wife about the state of our world, about the way we treat one another, about the disregard we have for our planet. But we are not to become frozen, as Lot’s wife is in our scripture. Our saltiness is combined with the lantern. We need to shine light on the ills of our world. And then we need to rub salt in the wounds and cleanse them and heal them.
And we have to do all that while holding onto the law of love, the overarching commandments of God, chiseled into stone, written on our hearts, summarized by Jesus in two phrases, “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” “And love your neighbor as yourself.”
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are the righteous beyond measure. No wonder we need blessings. No wonder we need God’s assurance that God will be with us, as we tackle these monumental, millennia old problems. No wonder we have to hold onto the promises of the Kingdom: being comforted and filled, receiving mercy, seeing God, being called children of God, inheriting the earth.
In this upside down, inside out, vision, Jesus is expecting us to be more than coach potatoes. His stump speech is intended to do more than just cast the vision. It is intended to set us on a course. You want to follow me, then this is what you have to do.
Be: Salt. Light. Love.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.